Market Report: German rival's troubles inject new life into Glaxo

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The Independent Online
SURPRISE German moves to impose restrictions on Losec, the Swedish ulcer drug, provided an unexpected shot in the arm for Glaxo Holdings.

The drug group's shares jumped 25p to 707p in busy trading with evidence of keen US buying. The Americans had already been alerted to Glaxo's trading attractions by an investment presentation in New York by Sir Richard Sykes, chief executive.

Then the Germans made their contribution. An announcement by the Federal Health Office said it intended to revoke the licence of Losec, taken intravenously, unless certain questions were answered within three weeks.

Losec is the main rival to Zantac, the ulcer drug that accounts for half Glaxo's sales and profits. The Swedish treatment, produced by Astra, has made considerable headway in the past few years and is mounting a strong challenge to Zantac, particularly in Europe.

The injectible Losec is said to represent less than 3 per cent of the treatment's sales in Germany. In their comments the German authorities refer to the possible danger of eye and ear damage, mainly from Losec taken intravenously.

There are said to have been 19 documented cases when Losec injections have caused problems leading, in some cases, to deafness.

Glaxo shares have staged a firm display since hitting a 1993 low of 514p in August.

Like other drug shares they were devastated by worries that growth would be retarded by the proposed US healthcare reforms and the much more stringent health controls being introduced in many countries.

But last month it reported half- year profits above pounds 1bn for the first time and a 29 per cent dividend increase, enough to make the shares one of the four best blue-chip performers in the past three months.

The rest of the stock market was prompted into a late run by New York. Fears that US interest rates might rise caused initial nervousness. When it became apparent the feared tightening by the Federal Reserve would not take place, New York shares picked up and a late surge, partly reflecting some technical factors, pushed the FT-SE 100 index to 3,278, up 31.5.

Lingering hopes that interest rates will be lowered to provide some compensation for the round of tax increases also offered support.

Government stocks scored gains of more than a point. Drink and retail shares were buoyant on cheaper money hopes.

So a volatile, highly nervous time ended with the index little changed on the week. However, the much more confident display yesterday could not mask growing worries about the derivative markets and the dangers of huge losses being incurred by some of the more active players.

It was significant that some financial shares failed to join in the revival with talk of proprietary trading mistakes being made in the recent turmoil.

Barclays, ahead of figures, fell 6p to 512p. Schroders managed a modest gain of 5p to 1,113p but SG Warburg shaded 3p to 824p. Smith New Court rose 10p to 404p.

Buying ahead of share splits helped Rank Organisation and Reuters. Rank improved 19p to 1,100p and Reuters, also enjoying US support, rose 44p to 2,078p.

Pearson was another media share in demand. The price rose 25p to 693p.

It is investing pounds 33m in a Spanish theme park at Salou, south of Barcelona.

Initially it will take a 40 per cent interest and has the option to acquire a further 10 per cent within five years of the park opening. Pearson is due to produce figures later this month.

The possibility of yet more competition failed to ruffle struggling Euro Disney, up 1p, at 386p.

Hillsdown Holdings, results on Thursday, rose 2p to 177p. Profits of about pounds 163m are expected against pounds 123.9m. There should be a same-again dividend of 8.8p a share, offering a yield of 6.3 per cent.

British Steel, on the back of a positive analysts meeting, improved 4p to 141.5p; engineer Siebe, also reflecting an investment meeting, gained a further 9p to 616p.

Newcomer Goldborough, a healthcare group, made a poor debut, suffering for a time the indignity of a discount. Placed at 170p, the shares touched 163p but had struggled back to the issue price by the close. The healthcare group was hived off from Kunick, the amusement machines group, up 0.25p to 16.5p.

Oils were firm, anticipating hopes of realistic cutbacks at the forthcoming Opec meeting. British Petroleum rose 7p to 363p.

BET, the business service group, was unchanged at 133.5p. Charterhouse Tilney regards the shares as a 'key buy'.

Minmet, buying control of a Russian company, held at 5.5p. The Russian operation has the rights to a Wollastonite deposit, a material seen as a replacement for asbestos.

Andaman Resources, the subject of a revamp after a period of little activity, is holding talks that could lead to the acquisition of 'a number of revenue-producing businesses'. The Irish group, with a share presence on the Dublin exploration market, is clearly keen to develop in the resources sector. Its shares held at 16p. They were once high flyers, nudging 100p.

Hartons, a Sheffield plastics group, was the best-performing share of the day - up 56 per cent at 7p. After a nightmare four years it is thought to be back in profit, following the disposal of its heavily loss-making French operation. Suter, the mini-conglomerate stalking James Wilkes, has played in the shares. It could be tempted to target the plastic group instead of Wilkes.