Market Report: Kingfisher strong on hope of Hodkinson comeback

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The Independent Online
SHARES of Kingfisher, the Comet and Woolworth retailing group, continue to ignore flat interim profits that prompted many analysts to pull back their year's forecasts.

The shares rose 14p to 502p against the 469p touched just after the figures on Tuesday.

There is talk that the shares are oversold, but perhaps the most significant influence in the revival is the name Jim Hodkinson. After founder David Quayle's departure he was the force behind the success of the B&Q do-it-yourself group that was a main plank in Kingfisher's success in the 1980s.

Two years ago Mr Hodkinson quit. His new role evolved as the European head of Home Depot, a US group that is thought to be keen to barge into the British market.

But the much-hyped US invasion has been slow to materialise and some in the stock market are growing increasingly convinced that Mr Hodkinson will be prevailed upon to return to B&Q and exercise his magic to get the do-it-yourself sheds performing ahead of their competitors once again.

He has resigned from Home Depot after only two months with the group for 'family reasons' that required him to return to Britain from the US.

There is little doubt the B&Q performance has been disappointing and an injection of Hodkinson-style exuberance could have a dramatic impact.

Kingfisher refused to comment. 'We never do on stock market rumours', a spokesman said.

The rest of the market, as indicated yesterday, ended seven days on the run with a determined rally, the FT-SE 100 index gaining 32.9 points at 3,112.7 and the supporting FT-SE 250 index 20.5 to 3,648.9. But trading was thin with much of the action relating to position squaring ahead of today's futures expiry.

More relaxing signals on inflation, with last month's retail sales down 0.3 per cent, also helped sentiment and government stocks provided further support with gains of up to one point.

But MFI, the flatpack furniture group, contradicted the high street gloom by reporting a good August performance with sales in the first 19 weeks of its year up 10 per cent. The shares gained 5.5p to 141p.

There was high excitement in the food sector as so many buyers piled in to Nutricia, a Dutch baby food maker, that jobbers in Amsterdam felt obliged to widen prices so dramatically that they effectively killed off demand.

Behind the rush was a revival of stories that Heinz, itself thought to be vulnerable to a takeover strike, was about to pounce on the Dutch group. Unigate, the dairy and transport group, has 33 per cent of Nutricia and is thought to be a willing seller.

What will it do with any Nutricia cash? The market has already decided - bid for Hazlewood Foods, the struggling group that reshuffled its board. The Unigate story, not the board changes, lifted the shares 9p to 139p. Unigate put on 13p to 363p.

Unilever, often rumoured to be interested in Heinz, was little changed at 1,121p.

Granada, the leisure group, jumped 14.5p to 490.5p following a meeting with Hoare Govett. It is due to meet other securities houses in the next two weeks. Cadbury Schweppes, meeting analysts, rose 8p to 464p.

British Petroleum put on 3p to 420.5p following its exploration meeting with analysts, which confirmed the big Vietnamese strike. Bakyrchik Gold rose 5p to 297p on a pounds 25.1m cash call at 283p, and Waverley Mining's 30 per cent involvement in the new Scottish coal mining venture lifted the shares 4p to 90p.

APV, the engineer, was the day's casualty, collapsing 35.5p to 83p on the halved dividend.

Imperial Chemical Industries rose 18p to 844p, apparently in response to a recent Goldman Sachs buy recommendation. Medeva gained 9p to 151p on a vaccine link with SmithKline Beecham.

Powell Duffryn, the engineer, rose 10p to 576p following a meeting with analysts, and T&N slipped 5p to 220p as it acquired options to buy 52.2 per cent of a German group.

Hawtal Whiting, the engineering consultant, produced interim profits of pounds 1.6m against pounds 402,000, sending its shares surging 65p to 285p. They were 40.75p earlier this year.

Wills, the widely-spread distributor, held at 23p as Greig Middleton forecast profits of pounds 4.7m this year and pounds 6m next and said buy.

Ramco Oil Services, one of the first to get involved in the former Soviet Union, spurted 17p to a 219p peak. The shares were buoyed by rumours that it is on the verge of announcing a deal in Azerbaijan. With other members of a consortium led by Amoco it has been negotiating to exploit an estimated 400 million tonnes of oil. Two years ago the shares were 32.5p.

Navan Resources, with gold and other mining interests in Eastern Europe and Spain, has attracted Smith New Court. Analyst Gordon Muir-Carby estimates assets at 230p against a share price of 150p. He draws attention to the Chelopech mine in Bulgaria which should be in production next year and could have an output of 91,000 oz of gold and 8,000 tonnes of copper a year.