Market Report: Enterprise looks like next target for US investors

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The Independent Online
IS Enterprise Oil set to become the next UK target for US investors? Yesterday the shares rose 8p to 419p, a two-day gain of 16p, as investment houses picked up shares, anticipating a transatlantic buying spree.

There is also talk that Enterprise, where Elf Aquitaine, the French oil group, has a 14.3 per cent interest, is planning a significant acquisition to help keep its momentum rolling.

The stockbroker Panmure Gordon is one to emerge as a supporter of the shares. Its analyst Liz Butler said the success of Enterprise's New York ADR issue proved the company had US appeal and 'if Wall Street starts to buy, London becomes irrelevant'.

She added: 'Over the next two years as Enterprise pulls ahead of its international competitors, they (US investors) will steadily increase their investment in the company.'

Enterprise has made it clear it is able to replace its oil reserves. In two years it should have two, perhaps three, years of stable and high output at a time many of its rivals could be feeling the pinch.

Barclays de Zoete Wedd and Lehman Brothers were other investment houses offering support to Enterprise.

Other oils were firm with Lasmo 5p higher at 151p. Carr Kitcat & Aitken was keen on the sector, singling out Shell, up 4p at 526p.

The rest of the stock market continued to anticipate that elusive interest rate cut. At one time the FT-SE 100 index was sporting a 21.3 points gain. But the waiting proved too much and profit-takers had cut the advance to 7.9 at 2,781.2 by the close.

Once again much of the buying was down among the third and fourth-liners, where private investors in effect have the field to themselves. Institutions, still dabbling in the top 350 shares, seem to be shunning the fringe of the market even more determinedly than usual.

The performance of Brent Walker, the heavily indebted leisure group, demonstrated the pursuit of the private punter. The shares climbed at one time or another 4p to 17p, closing at 16p in busy trading. They have climbed from 4.75p since the start of the year.

Institutions have been conspicuous by their absence. Indeed one market maker said he had been unable to trace any institutional buying - but there was some selling.

The longer opening hours for betting shops are seen by analysts as a favourable development and it is widely accepted that BW's pub estate should be reaping rewards from the turmoil in the brewing industry following the Government's Beer Orders.

After the market closed it was announced that Sir Keith Bright had become chairman.

Anglia Secure Homes was, however, the day's best-performing share. It jumped 3p to 7.5p on the arrival of Roger Shute, the creator of BM Group, with a 4.86 per cent stake. On Thursday he announced a 4.39 per cent interest in GM Firth, up another 1.5p to 16p.

Takeover rumours - with financials to the fore - continued to create excitement. Standard Chartered jumped 17p to 653p with Lloyds Bank, again unchanged at 499p, the favourite to strike. Union Discount, where bid talks are taking place, gained 9p to 99p with an announcement expected next week. Royal Insurance was at one time 10p higher at 292p on bid talk.

SG Warburg put on 3p to 554p as stories resurfaced that a deal is being hatched with JP Morgan, the US bank. Suggestions of a link with a US financial group have frequently been heard. The latest idea is that Warburg would exchange its market-making operations for Morgan's corporate business.

Asda, the supermarket chain normally associated with rights issue rumours, was another in the takeover frame. The shares rose 2p to 68.5p in busy trading as J Sainsbury was put forward as the bidder. Sainsbury, little changed at 559p, issued a denial.

Forte, the hotel group, was lowered 3p to 175p as dividend cut worries returned. Boosey & Hawkes, the music group, improved 40p to 1,080p. It is seeking dollars 200m damages from Walt Disney.

BTR put on 10p to 549p as Nomura made positive noises but Hoare Govett caution ahead of figures was enough to lower Reuters 20p to 1,110p. Cable and Wireless slipped 18p to 703p on a rumoured downgrading, thought to be from UBS Phillips & Drew.

Kwik-Fit, the tyres and exhausts group where takeover speculation has been riding high in the past two months, lost 7p to 109p as James Capel turned negative.

The insurance broker Sedgwick fell 7p to 166p. It warned that its exposure to River Thames Insurance would cost pounds 6m this year.

The FT-SE 100 index was at one time up 21.3 points, awaiting an interest rate cut. But when one failed to materialise profit-takers moved in and the index closed 7.9 higher at 2,781.2. The FT-SE 250 index was up 9.8 at 2,909. Trading was again busy with nearly 700 million shares traded and 31,229 bargains

Shares of Office & Electronic Machines improved 5p to 51p yesterday as Simon Fussell, the former chief of the Priest Marrians property group, sold 360,000 shares, cutting his stake to 14.69 per cent. The buyer is rumoured to be Robert Noonan, the Irish-born property developer who moved in as chairman last year. He already has a substantial share interest.

Trading in the new shares that saved Upton & Southern is due to start on Monday. The new management team has ambitious plans and a determined attempt to grow by adding retail activities to the existing four department stores is expected. At a City presentation this week hopes were expressed of turnover reaching pounds 50m. The shares were 4p yesterday.