Market Report: Fears of fresh cash call give traders the wobbles

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The Independent Online
THE SUSPICION that another big cash call is hovering unsettled the stock market.

At one time shares were pushing ahead confidently but the combination of a subdued New York opening and the rights issue talk tended to rein back enthusiasm.

British Aerospace, famed for one of the most spectacular rights flops, was one name in the frame. The shares rose 9p to 484p.

The group's rights disaster occurred nearly three years ago when it raised pounds 432m through a two-for-five issue at 380p. In the event the rights attracted only a 4.3 per cent take-up. In the subsequent shake-up Professor Sir Roland Smith was ousted from the chairmanship and the shares dived to a low of 113p.

The market drew some support from a firm display by government stocks, hopes that interest rates will not be forced higher and increased retail sales.

At one time the FT-SE 100 index was up 14.6 points. It closed with a 6.3 gain at 3,122.8.

The day's big deal involved the newspaper group The Telegraph. Through Cazenove, the stockbroker, Hollinger, the company of the chairman, Conrad Black, sold 12.5 million shares at 587p. The deal reduced the Hollinger interest to 56.95 per cent. Telegaph shares fell 20p to 600p.

Euromoney, the specialist publisher, improved 75p to 1,925p. The group's signalled placing, to raise pounds 23.4m, has been priced at 1,875p. Much of the cash is earmarked for 'certain acquisitions'.

Cautious comment at shareholder meetings also helped to erode sentiment. Guinness fell 5.5p to 488p following a flat statement and Iceland, the supermarket chain, lost 6p to 146p as shareholders were told 'like-for-like' sales in the first 10 weeks of the year were down 2.4 per cent.

Although BT and British Gas moved only pennies on results, a weak profits display left Willis Corroon, the insurance broker, nursing a 47.5p loss to 191.5p.

Abbey National continued to feel the chill of increased mortgage competition, highlighted by the proposed takeover of the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society by Lloyds Bank.

With UBS continuing to make negative noises, Abbey shares fell 6p to 401p. Since the Lloyds plan was unveiled last month Abbey has slumped 63p.

WH Smith's long-expected decision to equalise its shares had a sharp impact on A Cohen, one of the dwindling portfolio still clinging to a two-tier structure.

The voting shares of the obscure metals group surged 178p to 688p and the non-voting 'A' shares 170p to 655p. The shares are a narrow market, with the Cohen family big shareholders.

Newcomer DCC, an Irish industrial group, scored a modest premium. The shares closed at 248p against an equivalent flotation price of 245p.

On the football pitch Manchester Utd fell 6p to 615p as Marathon Asset Management disclosed a 5.43 per cent interest. The hooliganism at Millwall left the shares 0.5p down at 3p.

The boardroom upheaval at Herring Baker Harris, the estate agent, left the price down 7p at 41p after 33p.

Bluebird Toys had another exhilarating run, advancing 30p to 850p, a new high.

A confident yearly meeting prompted Smith New Court to increase its profit forecast sharply. Analyst Tim Steer has moved from pounds 11.7m to pounds 16.6m. Last year Bluebird increased profits to pounds 9.81m from pounds 1.54m. At Christmas three years ago the toy group was bumping along at 26p.

Williams Holdings edged ahead 2p to 369p as NatWest Securities pointed to likely growth as the British and US housing recovery gathers pace. It expects the group to concentrate on bolt- on takeovers. The shares, it said, were too low-rated 'for a company with major exposure to the early-cycle recovery'.

Courtaulds, the chemical group, staged a 3p gain to 547p as Smith forecast that the expected poor profits would emerge at about pounds 152m, down from pounds 186.2m. But BOC, helped by its recent robust trading report, put on 11p to 737p.

The FT-SE 100 index edged forward 6.3 points to 3,122.8 and the supporting FT-SE 250 index managed a 1.8 gain to 3,713.5. Turnover was 621.9 million shares, with 23,075 bargains recorded. The account ends 3 June with settlement on 13 June.

Carr's Milling Industries attracted interest, touching 230p before closing at 224p, up 13p. Interim figures are due next month and a sharp advance on last year's pounds 610,000 is expected. But the market is also intrigued about the attitude of Heygate & Sons, an unquoted miller that recently picked up a few shares nudging its shareholding towards 27 per cent.

Stake-building is suspected at Horace Clarkson, the insurance and shipping group. The shares gained 10p to 94p. Castalia Offshore Partners is the likely buyer. Last week the specialist shipping fund lifted its shareholding to 6.34 per cent. The fund already has interests in two British shipping groups, James Fisher and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co.

A pounds 40m rights issue by debt- laden coal miner NSM is already assured of a 57 per cent institutional take-up. The group, back in profit, is making a five-for-two cash call at 100p. The shares fell 43p to 174p. Among institutions that have agreed to take up the rights are PDFM and Schroders. But the Kuwait Investment Office, with 9 per cent, has yet to make its intentions known.