Market Report: Grand Metropolitan's shake-up puts beer in a ferment

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The Independent Online
Beer shares were in a ferment as Grand Metropolitan, which brewed its last pint five years ago, threatened an industry shake-up.

The food and drink group rose 5p to 442p in busy trading. The stock market was excited by moves by Inntrepreneur, the pubs chain, to wriggle out of commitments given when it was formed.

Grandmet owns 50 per cent of the controversial pubs estate and could be a major beneficiary from any relaxation of the undertakings. Inntrepreneur, it is thought, wants to get more deeply involved in managed pubs and retain the beer tie which is due to end in 1998.

If Inntrepreneur's estate remains tied, presumably to a brewer of the company's choice, it would end hopes of a free-for-all among the major groups to sell beer to the chain's 2,900 pubs.

Bass fell 13p to 822p and Scottish, the present Inntrepreneur supplier, 10p to 656p. Allied Domecq, which hopes to abandon brewing, fell to 439p, lowest for five years.

The pub move comes only days after it was disclosed that Guinness had at least pondered mounting a hostile pounds 13.2bn bid for Grandmet. Although the possibility of such a development is now presumably dead there is a sneaking suspicion Grandmet could soon be engulfed in corporate activity.

Once a takeover is signalled, even remotely, there is, it is felt, often a distinct possibility of bid action breaking out with others, alerted by the sudden display of interest, moving in.

Grandmet has been the subject of speculation for months with talk of US leveraged break-up bids going the rounds.

If Inntrepreneur should retain the beer tie, which would allow it to wring better terms from suppliers, the company could quickly be made suitable for a flotation. Grandmet would no doubt be a willing seller; it has distanced itself from the pubs estate as controversy has intensified about the structure of the company and its relationship with its publicans.

The rest of the market was in positive territory until New York opened and promptly slumped as Hewlett-Packard devastated hi-tech stocks with a profit warning.

Even before the Wall Street collapse poor old Hanson was again feeling the pinch. In heavy turnover, with strong evidence of US selling, the shares fell 2p to 167p as more investors bailed out ahead of the demerger. In two days Seaq volume has been 69 million shares. Tomkins remained aloof from the conglomerate carnage, up 4p at 269p.

A large US buyer caught the market on the hop over Imperial Chemical Industries, pushing the shares 14p higher to 812p after recent weakness.

Lucas Industries rose 5p to 225p as the debate continued whether its merger with Varity, the US car parts group, will be completed. The finger was pointed at GKN, up 8p at 1,041p, as the interventionist.

Orange fell 8p to a 196p low with overseas selling seemingly apparent. On the IG Index grey market British Energy was traded at 104p to 108p against up to 117p earlier this week.

Biotech shares faced renewed uncertainty with British Biotech perilously close to its rights price. The shares fell 45p to 2,085p with the nil paid rights almost halving to 36p. The cash call is at 2,050p.

Asda gained 1p to 120p as consultants AGB Research said it was gaining market share with Somerfield, coming to market at between 180p and 190p, losing ground.

East Midland Electricity edged ahead 3p to 573p as bid hopes flickered faintly and British Gas rose 2p to 187.5p with Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull moving from hold to trading buy.

BAA, the airports group, was little changed at 471p ahead of next week's regulatory package. Lehman Brothers regards the shares a buy, saying a worst case scenario is already in the price.

Rank Organisation was ruffled by an ABN Amro Hoare Govett downgrading, losing 11p at 471p.

AIM's run of recruits continued. Electronic Retailing Systems, the first Nasdaq stock to join made a quiet debut, up 3p at 148p. It supplies electronic shelf labelling systems for retailers. Lotteryking, with a near 20 million turnover, traded at 4p, up from a 3p placing.

BTG, the technology company which was riding high when it joined the supporting index on Monday, continued to suffer the better-to-travel-than- arrive feeling. The shares, 1,895p on Tuesday, fell 37p to 1,773p.

Wilshaw, the metal powders group, fell 2p to 32p, a three year low. Stockbroker Greig Middleton rates the shares a buy.