Market Report: Granada misses the party amid talk of acquisition

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The Independent Online
GRANADA missed what turned out to be another exuberant stock market party.

As the FT-SE 100 index climbed a further 29 points to 3,234.2, the leisure group was weighed down by talk of hovering lines of stock and the possibility of a big catering acquisition.

The shares managed an early advance on the British Sky Broadcasting figures. The group has a 13.5 per cent interest in the satellite operator.

But they soon fell into negative territory and at the close were unchanged at 499p.

There was a chunky Granada share placing recently as an institution, overloaded following the LWT acquisition, placed stock. The current overhang is said to relate to the LWT deal.

The takeover story involved Gardner Merchant, the subject of a pounds 342m management buyout from the Forte catering and hotel group 18 months ago. At one time Gardner seemed destined to become part of Compass, the catering group headed by Gerry Robinson, the Granada chief executive.

Mr Robinson led the Compass buyout from Grand Metropolitan and expanded the group through acquisitions. Since moving into Granada, he has returned to the contract catering table with the takeover of Sutcliffe, a pounds 360m buy from P&O.

Gardner is ambitious and, allowed its own menu, will float its shares. But Mr Robinson may attempt an early strike by bidding the venture capitalists who supported the buyout.

Kwik Save, the food discounter, was another said to be contemplating a bid. Lo-Cost, the 270-strong discount arm of Argyll Group, was rumoured to be in its sights.

Argyll is known to be examining the role of Lo-Cost and stories of a deal have circulated. But most observers felt the latest Kwik Save rumour was wide of the mark.

Their scepticism did not prevent Kwik Save jumping 37p to 649p and Argyll putting on 7.5p to 303.5p.

The stock market was encouraged by New York's strong performance on Wednesday but failed to hold its best levels when US shares made a limp start to trading yesterday.

Even so turnover was heavy, with institutional shareholders, continuing to emerge from their summer hibernation, taking the view they must not be left behind in case the advance gathers pace.

Electricities had another scintillating session, with Eastern surging 26p to 848p. Norweb responded to bullish talk with a 17p gain to 822p.

Charter's successful bid for Esab, the Swedish group, kept the shares on the boil, up another 25p to 821p. Tomkins' bullish trading statement lifted the shares 13p but by the close they were up 3.5p at 245.5p.

United Newspapers improved 8p to 553p, seemingly reflecting the change of editor at the Sunday Express; Pearson improved 8p to 655p on the BSkyB results but News International retreated 13p to 244p.

MFI, the flatpack furniture retailer, rose 4p to 153.5p as Morgan Stanley made positive comments. But Allied Colloids, the chemical group, dipped 2p to 144p with NatWest Securities cautious.

Invesco, the investment management group, rose 4.5p to 177p. Peregrine, the Hong Kong group, picked up another 1.6 million shares, lifting its holding to 24.1 per cent.

Hambro Countrywide, the estate agent, fell 5.5p to 49p on the slump into the red and dropped interim dividend.

Andrews Sykes, the industrial services group, had a lively time, jumping 10p to 68p. Jacques Murray, who has boardroom control and about 45 per cent of the shares, is bidding 50p a share through a private vehicle, European Fire Protection.

There has been talk that Mr Murray intends to take Andrews private. But the share reaction since the bid indicates hopes that he will retain the quote and develop the company.

IMC Industries, to become Continental Foods, returned to market at 2.5p following the takeover of Red Mill Snack Foods.

Wyndeham, the specialist printer, remained at 127p. It has held investment meetings and institutions now account for 70 per cent of its shares.

Anglesey Mining, with a mothballed mine on the Welsh island, rose 2.5p to 9.5p. The shares were 4p last week when control of Anglesey's dominant shareholder changed hands. There are hopes that the new investors will revive the Anglesey project.

The FT-SE 100 share index improved 29 points to 3,234.2 and the FT-SE 250 index rose 27.3 to 3,789.4. Turnover reached 843.5 million shares, one of the best perfomances this year, with 34,291 bargains. Government stocks scored gains of up to a point.

French Connection, the fashion group, continues to stretch ahead. The shares rose 8p to 238p. There are hopes of bumper interim profits next month. But the market is intrigued about the group's future direction. If, as expected, it moves from USM to full listing, the controlling shareholder, Stephen Marks, will have to reduce his stake. The shares were 5p two years ago.

Tottenham Hotspur, reflecting the Klinsmann factor, jumped 14p to 126p, its best since 1989. Tomorrow Spurs clash with Manchester United. Whatever the result there is unlikely to be any analytical talk of switching. Profit forecasts for United, unchanged at 665p, run to pounds 9.7m but, according to the Estimate Directory, not one analyst has guessed the Spurs outcome.

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