Market Report: Hanson takes a tumble on poor results outlook

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The Independent Online
NERVOUSNESS ahead of today's first-quarter figures unsettled shares of Hanson, the sprawling conglomerate. In brisk trading they were at one time down 8p, closing 6p lower at 283.5p.

With the stock market again weak, Hanson was an obvious casualty. Its results will look disastrous, with NatWest Securities, for example, expecting pounds 100m against pounds 216m.

Although a dividend cut is highly unlikely, there is a nagging suspicion in some quarters that Lord Hanson, chairman and creator, could be tempted to trim the payment. Last year's corresponding dividend was 2.85p.

Peabody, the group's US coal business, has inflicted much of the damage. A long-running strike cost pounds 125m and was not settled until halfway through the quarter, which ran to the end of January.

The strike was also an important factor in Hanson's poor performance last year, when profits fell from pounds 1.29bn to pounds 1.02bn.

High borrowings are also inflicting discomfort on the British conglomerate, which at one time was rarely away from the takeover front line as it absorbed companies here and overseas and gained a reputation for its asset-stripping capabilities.

Hanson is disposing of unwanted interests - Beazer, the housebuilder, is being floated for an expected minimum of pounds 400m in the spring - to cut debt, but its history has meant it is deeply associated with predatory strikes.

In recent times there has been talk of a US food acquisition. And United Biscuits, which clashed head-on with Hanson over the old Imperial Group, is regarded as a possible domestic target.

The market had, by recent standards, an exceedingly quiet session, with shares still tormented by worries about bond prices. In another futures-driven session there was plenty of uncertainty to ensure that the bears retained the upper hand.

The breakdown of the US-Japan trade talks, another Whitehall resignation and profit-taking in Far Eastern markets were the most obvious inhibiting influences. But caution was also evident ahead of a raft of economic figures embracing inflation, retail sales and unemployment, due tomorrow.

The FT-SE 100 index closed down 15.4 points at 3,363.5. It was encouraged from its 3,350.2 low point by a firm New York display. The index is at its lowest for a month. The supporting FT-SE 250 index lost 19.4 to 4,010.6.

The power generators shone through the gloom, still reflecting last week's deal with the industry watchdog. National Power rose 15.5p to 491p and PowerGen 9p to 450p. But the Scottish generators and the regional electricity companies were weak.

British Steel rose 5p to 147.5p on reports that a steel strike had been called in Germany.

Drugs resisted the malaise. Glaxo Holdings improved 12p to 651p on talk of a trading pact with Pfizer, the US group. Glaxo's figures are due on Thursday with estimates stretching to pounds 980m against pounds 819m last time. SmithKline Beecham, enjoying Nomura support, improved 6p to 415p.

BT faded 1.5p to 450.5p and the partly paid, incorporating the second instalment, dipped 1p to 331p.

The Courage figures upset beers. Whitbread, which also had to contend with UBS sell advice, fell 10p to 534p.

Cadbury Schweppes, said to be edging nearer to the US soft drink group Dr Pepper/Seven-Up, put on 7p at 516p. It has 25.9 per cent of Dr Pepper, the third-largest soft drink maker in the US. Last year Cadbury acquired another US group, A&W.

Courtaulds, the chemical group, dipped 7.5p to 497.5p after James Capel cut its profit estimates by pounds 10m to pounds 140m and pounds 15m to pounds 165m.

Lloyds Bank, after cautious meetings, fell 30p in its ex-dividend form. The dividend accounted for 15.5p.

Yorkshire TV was again in demand, at one time 24p higher. The shares closed up 10p at 362p. Zetters, the pools group, rose 10p to 120p following the reduction in the Zetter family's shareholding.

Sleepy Kids, the animation group taking in the Duchess of York's Budgie character, climbed 10p to 100p ahead of a New York toy fair.

Ramco Oil Services, one of the first oil tiddlers to get involved in the former Soviet Union, spurted 26.5p to 173p on indications that prospects for its Azerbaijan development had improved.

Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertising group, fell 8p to 137p on worries about trading prospects.

Newcomer Parkside, a packaging group, made a firm debut. Placed at 110p, the shares closed at 124p.

A debutant also appeared on the backwater rule 535 market. Whitchurch, a meat group, traded at 51.5p. The shares were placed by stockbroker Shore Capital Markets at 47p, raising pounds 1.28m for expansion.

Barry Cox, former head of the Hard Rock Cafe operation, is chairman. He hopes eventually to obtain a full listing.

Jermyn Investment Co, a property group, surged 45p to 183p as the market prepared for corporate action. Chairman Gerald Newton sold 899,000 shares at 180p. They are thought to have been acquired by an investing trio planning to reshape the group. The shares represent 44.95 per cent of the capital but 29.97 per cent of the votes. Mr Newton still has 16.37 per cent.

Shares of Gestetner, the office equipment group, are still hovering around their 1993-94 high despite the market's recent weakness. The group suffered heavy losses last year but recovery is thought to be under way. The hovering presence of Ricoh of Japan (29.5 per cent) and Inchcape (15 per cent) underlines takeover prospects. The shares edged ahead 2p to 186p.

The FT-SE 100 index closed 15.4 points lower at 3,363.5 and the FT-SE 250 index lost 19.4 to 4,010.6. Turnover was 626.5 million shares from 34,404 deals. The account ends on 25 February with settlement on 7 March. Government stocks were easier.

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