Market Report: Expectation builds of three big ones in the pipeline

The story running in the stock market is that three big takeover bids are being prepared and at least one will materialise in the next few weeks.

It has so far been a disappointing year for corporate action. There had been hopes of extensive activity before the looming election started to unsettle sentiment. But with the nobtable exception of utilities the expected rush has barely been a trickle and even utilities have threatened more than they have delivered.

With shares drifting aimlessly and investors displaying little enthusiasm it is not surprising that the market is still clinging hopefully to thoughts of heady takeover action.

The cynic will say bid talk is merely an attempt to drum up business and the events of last year, when takeover records were established, have left the market with an ideas vacuum.

The three bids are said to be in banking, engineering and food.

The two Scottish banks and Standard Chartered are regarded as the most likely banking victims.

Royal Bank of Scotland has for long been seen as predatory fodder and Bank of Scotland, with the Standard Life insurance giant looking to sell its 32.3 per cent stake, is clearly vulnerable.

Standard Chartered, the third name in the banking frame, enjoyed a famous escape 10 years ago when what is now Lloyds TSB launched a hostile bid. Its modest progress yesterday was due to analytical support from NatWest Securities, which moved its profit forecast by pounds 20m to pounds 820m. The shares responded with a 4p gain to 646p, near their 12 month high.

Favourite to collect the food bid is Cadbury Schweppes, the soft drink to sweet group. With a pounds 4.9bn valuation there are not many suitable candidates. Unilever and a few US groups seems to be the most likely. The shares, off 2p at 481p, have fallen from a 561p high.

Lucas Industries, merging with Varity of the US, is the engineer in the limelight. There is a feeling the Varity deal will flush out a bidder, with an array of engineering names seen as possible players. The shares fell 4p to 241p.

The market ended a lacklustre session with the FT-SE 100 index off 8.6 points at 3,739.2. BT, up 13p at 368.5p on the more tolerable pricing demands from its regulator was responsible for a near 5 points plus which was wiped out by the 5.4 points represented by dividend payments.

Ladbroke, a perennial bid victim which continues to encourage heavy trading, rose 2.5p to 192p.

It was not all happy dialling for BT with Oftel probing mobile telephones and increasing talk of harmful side effects from the hand-held instruments. Securicor fell 67p to 2,098p and Vodafone 5.5p to 250p.

The two quoted Premiership football clubs, Manchester Utd and Tottenham Hotspur, were in goal-scoring form on the growing realisation of the huge television riches they will attract. Manchester gained 35p to 400p and Spurs 51p to 429p. Caspian, seemingly the vehicle to bring Leeds Utd to market, was suspended at 18.5p.

The football excitement was also supported by the expected spin-offs from the European Cup and growing suspicions that some television groups could be tempted to buy a leading club. Carlton Communications, keen on getting a slice of the action, gained 11p to 495p. BSkyB was ruffled by thoughts of higher taxes, falling 3.5p to 446p.

Newspapers felt the impact of the latest moves in the price war, with Mirror Group off 4p at 215p and United News & Media 12p at 731p.

The regulatory blast at Yorkshire Water at one time sank the shares 72p; they closed just 1p off at 729p.Wessex put on 10p to 368p on talk of a US bid.

Barclays rose 7p to 758p following suggestions that the arrival of Bill Harrison could hasten the flotation of its investment arm. Whitbread dipped 5p to 724p, ruffled by the uncertainty surrounding David Lloyd, who runs the leisure centres.

Eurotunnel jumped 11.5p to 105.5p on hopes of refinancing progress and Camas, a building materials group, added 2.5p to 88.5p following a US visit by analysts.

Scottish Pride, a milk group, flowed 13p to 61p on takeover talks with Robert Wiseman, unchanged at 183p.

Scotia, the drugs business, rose 34p to 729p as Lehman Brothers made confident noises and Microvitec edged ahead 3.5p to 71p. The shares are firm on hopes of big orders for its flat screen equipment.

Carisbrooke Shipping, with a 14-strong fleet, docked on AIM, achieving 108p against a 90p placing.

TAKING STOCK

Delyn continues to search for acquisitions following the sale of its packaging business. With pounds 8m burning a hole in its corporate pocket it is building on its property operations which, with a half share in a Scottish housebuilder, represent most of its trading activities. It no doubt feels a need to extend its trading operations to make sure its share quote is preserved. The price fell 7p to 74p; it was 103p in December when the packaging business was sold.

The musical chairs continue at Courtyard Leisure, a small wine bar chain. Roderick Sutherland, a former stockbroker, and Richard Capper have acquired 29.9 per cent and taken management control. They run the Drum and Monkey bar and bistro chain. The shares rose 2p to 11p.

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