Market Report: 'Growing mistrust' behind Shell's fall

THINGS ARE not going well at Shell. Top-rated oil analyst Fergus MacLeod, at investment house BT Alex.Brown, cites a "growing sense of mistrust" as a prime reason for the dramatic decline in the oil giant's shares since Mark Moody-Stuart took over.

He became what Shell grandly calls chairman of the committee of managing directors last month. Since then Shell's capitalisation has fallen by pounds 24bn.

"Such enormous loss of shareholder value cannot be blamed on oil prices, which have moved sideways since Moody-Stuart's appointment, nor on stock markets as the shares have underperformed the UK and Dutch markets by 11 per cent and 13 per cent respectively," says Mr MacLeod.

A sad inability to communicate is largely responsible, he feels. The fall represents unease in the market about Shell's progress in its efforts to transform its financial performance and a failure of communication between the company and its shareholders.

Shell's shares have crashed from 484.5p in October to a 12-month low of 356p. They ended a modest rally by losing 9p to 367p yesterday.

Mr MacLeod takes the view the shares are now worth buying. He talks about a "significant upside", particularly if, as he expects, the communication breakdown is resolved.

With equities deep in uncertainty, Shell failed to respond to BT's buy advice. At one time down 124.5 points, Footsie ended 92.8 off at 5,587.6. Around 12 points were stripped out of the calculation by blue chips which went ex-dividend.

In the summertime heat, trading was exceedingly thin with many of the big hitters away and those still in touch content to follow New York's every gyration. Another poor overnight performance by Tokyo added to the depression.

The atmosphere was not helped by the latest Merrill Lynch survey which said fund managers were switching out of equities into Government stocks (the long-dated Gilts were sharply higher).

August is a notoriously poor time for the market. So far this month Footsie has lost nearly 250 points. Supporting indices were a little more resilient, however. Helped by the takeover activity among bus and coach-makers, the mid cap index held its retreat to 18.3 at 5,304.7; the small cap was off 7.5 at 2,405.6.

The Mayflower Corporation bid for Dennis and the arrival of Volvo created a flurry of bus and coach activity. Dennis, which had agreed a friendly merger with Henlys, motored 13p to 469p as Mayflower, down 11.5p to 184.5p, launched its takeover assault and moved into the market to buy 1.5 per cent of its target at 450p. Henlys put on 48.5p to 577.5p. Volvo, the Swedish group, said it intends to buy 10 per cent of the company to reinforce existing trading arrangements. The Swedish move quickly produced thoughts that it could eventually roll out a full-scale bid.

Takeover speculation, rather than action, engulfed the two English generators with National Power adding 16p to 539p and PowerGen 12p to 780p.

NP is said to be the target of a consortium led by John Devaney, chief executive of Energy, a subsidiary of Texas Utilities. He is said to be trying to raise the pounds 7bn NP would require. PG is thought to still hanker after a US deal.

Orange, on results, led the blue chip board with a 45p gain to 795p and BG continued to shrug off the gloom with a 2.5p gain to 384p following upbeat analyst comments.

Properties, for so long down in the dumps, perked up with British Land, firm on Friday, putting on 20.5p to 558p and Land Securities 20.5p to 843.5p.

BT fell 21p to 819p. Chris Godsmark at Henderson Crosthwaite lifted his target price to 1,000p. He describes the joint venture with US giant AT&T as "the deal of the decade for BT".

Chiroscience hardened 6p to 225.5p following a link with Ascot. First Leisure was weak, off 15.5p to 272p, as a large line of stock sought a home. Claremont Garments firmed 2.5p to 32.5p on a possible offer and fitness chain Lady in Leisure spurted 32p to 225p on a "tentative" approach.

Booker, in talks which could lead to a merger, rose a further 13p to 355p and Border Television, which admitted it had rebuffed an approach from Scottish Radio, improved 36p to 341p. Danka Business Systems firmed 10p to 141.5p on rumours of a bid. Struggling Car Group edged forward 1.5p to 17.5p on takeover speculation.

Reed International, the publisher, continued to feel the impact of Charterhouse Tilney caution, falling 35p to 528p. Dicom, involved in document image processing, slumped 83p to 105p as it plunged into losses.

Newcomer Wilmslow, a leisure and sports clothing group, traded at 2.5p against a 2p placing.

Pan Andean Resources, the oil explorer which once touched the giddy heights of 138p, fell 1p to 10p. As expected there is another loss but the lack of progress in Bolivia is undermining the shares.

SEAQ VOLUME: 617.7m

SEAQ TRADES: 49,866

GILTS INDEX: n/a

ACORN COMPUTER could be on the verge of cashing in its Arm chips. Acorn surprised by disclosing its interim figures would be announced on Friday. Its 27.2 per cent Arm shareholding is worth pounds 140m compared with its capitalisation of pounds 95m. Acorn hopes it could reveal its intentions with its figures. Its shares rose 6p to 108.5p.

JOHN FOSTER, the old Black Dyke Mills cloth making group, more than doubled to 5p. It is emerging as a property play and is in talks to sell what is left of its cloth making side.

COMPUTER GROUP Compel rose 21p to 465p after clinching a deal to supply hardware and software to the BBC for three years, possibly for seven.

IT'S GETTING to be a weekly event - brewer Vaux frothing up on bid speculation. The shares rose 9.5p to 339p; they touched 356p when talks, since ended, were announced in June.

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