Market Report: Fears of wavering support drive down Hanson price

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The Independent Online
HANSON, once famed for its bold takeover exploits, tumbled to a new low for the year on rumours that its own stockbroker and long-standing faithful supporter, Hoare Govett, felt obliged to cut its profit forecast.

Stock market sources suggested Hoare had moved from pounds 1.035bn to pounds 990m. Estimates of the conglomerate's likely performance have been cut in recent months by a clutch of analysts. Some investment houses, such as NatWest Securities, hover around pounds 950m, but the average market forecast still nudges pounds 1.14bn.

If the lower predictions are correct it will be the third year in succession that Hanson has suffered a profits fall.

The increasingly tired performance can only strengthen the view that the group has lost its way and, like most who live by the sword, could eventually fall victim to a hostile break-up bid.

Hanson waxed rich by descending on what it regarded as under-performing groups. At one time the mere mention of its name was enough to strike fear in many a boardroom. It grew, under the direction of Lord Hanson, from modest transport beginnings into an extraordinarily powerful transatlantic group through a succession of increasingly spectacular deals.

Its last important British excursion was in 1986 when it acquired for pounds 2.2bn the Imperial Group and, in typical Hanson fashion, quickly recouped much of its outlay by selling part of its capture, including the Courage brewing business.

But times change. The last domestic deal was a modest pounds 96.1m acquisition of the Scholes electrical group.

Since the Imps deal, Hanson's most exciting moves have been in the US, although it has toyed with a number of big deals, including British Airways and PowerGen.

Hanson shares fell 5.5p to 230.5p. Their high was 302p.

The rest of the stock market ended another unsettling week on a cautious note, with the FT- SE 100 share index up 7 points to 3,028.2, but the supporting index was again weak.

At one time the 100 index was below the crucial 3,000 level. Better-than-expected GDP figures started a recovery.

This week the index has fallen 26.9 points, a much smaller fall than last week. Since the start of the month the market is carrying a 223.1 scar.

BET, the support services group, held at 105p as Barclays de Zoete Wedd, the company's broker, said buy but trimmed its profit forecast. It is happy with its current-year estimate of pounds 105m but has lowered next year's by pounds 4m to pounds 124m. Rentokil, the pest control group, was little changed at 231.5p after Smith New Court said the shares were too high.

Supermarket shares were again in the wars as the market contemplated the latest round of price cuts and their impact on margins. Fidelity Brokerage added to the sector's discomfort by naming Asda and Tesco as sells because of price war fears.

Argyll, the Safeway chain, ended 9p lower at 268p; Asda 1.5p at 61.5p; Tesco 6.5p to 232.5p, and J Sainsbury 17p at 397p.

With the Russians seemingly adopting an increasingly unco-operative line over the dollars 8bn Azerbaijan oil venture, British Petroleum fell 4p to 398p and Ramco Oil Services 10p to 217p.

The proposed development will of course have a far greater impact on a small group such as Ramco than a company of BP's stature. Even so, the oil giant has fallen 19p since the agreement was signed on Tuesday; Ramco has lost 55.5p.

British Steel jumped 7p to 164.5p in busy trading as it confirmed it intended to raise some prices by 7 to 10 per cent.

Rank Organisation climbed 12p to 413p following an analysts meeting. Granada, which is holding investment meetings, put on another 10p to 501p. Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertising group, meeting analysts as the market closed, fell 4p to 156p.

Electricities were dull despite more share buy-backs. Seeboard swooped for 2.5 million at 429p; South Western acquired 500,000 at 779.5p and South Wales 300,000 at 805p. The trio fell, with Seeboard off 3p to 427p; South Western 15p to 773.5p, and South Wales 5p to 803p.

High-flying Joseph Holt, the Manchester brewer with the impeccable profits record, disappointed some of its supporters with interim profits of pounds 3.99m ( pounds 3.81m) and the shares tumbled 75p to 3,675p.

Antofagasta, raising cash to take control of a Chilean copper mine, rose 23p to 368p.

Midland Assets was suspended at 19p as it announced the reverse takeover of APTA Nursing Services, and United Breweries was halted at 6.75p ahead of a reconstruction, which will include a cash call and the acquisition of 70 pubs.

The FT-SE 100 index rose 7 points to 3,028.2 but the supporting FT-SE 250 index again weakened, off 1.2 to 3,560.9. Turnover was 550.5 million shares with 23,514 bargains logged. Government stocks strengthened by up to a pounds 1 4 .

Artesian Estates, a business expansion scheme group started in 1989, is due to come to market next month. Peel Hunt is the company stockbroker. The group has property interests in London and the South-east. It is not the first BES company to get a full listing - that distinction belongs to South Country Homes, which slipped quietly on to the market in July.

Bluebird Toys' long-standing Continental investors continue to trickle shares onto the market. They have cut their interest to 18.77 per cent, the second reduction in recent weeks. Early last month they held 21.06 per cent. Bluebird is a top performer of the 1990s. The shares were only 6.5p in 1990p. They have been up to 247p and closed yesterday at 235p, down 3p.

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