Market Report: Ladbroke dips as punters take their profits

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The Independent Online
LADBROKE - the highest yielding FT-SE 100 index constituent - came under pressure, as fears that the high return might be an illusion mingled with a desire to take profits after the strength of its shares this year.

The price dipped 8.5p to 209p in busy trading, with next week's interim figures drawing attention to the group's difficulties.

A high dividend yield, of course, is a warning to investors to ignore at their peril. Until doubts set in on Friday, the stock market had been confident that Ladbroke would hold its dividend, offering a yield of more than 6 per cent.

It is still widely accepted that the interim will be maintained at 4.92p a share, although profits will be down, say to pounds 68m against pounds 79.4m.

But the comfort cushion is pretty thin. A question mark hangs over the year's dividend - which might not be covered - being maintained.

Although sentiment has been moving in Ladbroke's favour, the group's Hilton Hotels network continues to suffer with the industry, and sales at the Texas do-it-yourself chain are thought to have fallen in the first six months. But it should have enjoyed improved returns from its betting and property sides.

Rumours that Ladbroke's creator, Cyril Stein, will quit as chairman have resurfaced, but most observers expect him to soldier on. The company has drafted in John Coleman, former managing director of the Dorothy Perkins fashion chain, as chief executive of Texas.

The rest of the market suffered a sudden bout of the summertime blues, with overseas investors failing to mop up domestic selling. The FT- SE 100 index lost 15.6 points to 3,042, and the FT-SE 250 index retreated 15 to 3,467.4. Talk of rights issues and a stretching queue of hopeful newcomers inhibited sentiment. Despite another short-term French cut, interest rate speculation was put on hold with the Bundesbank meeting on Thursday.

MB Caradon and Tarmac emerged as the rights issue favourites. Shares of MB stuck at 314p as the story circulated that it planned a one-for-four call at 280p, to raise pounds 300m. The group is negotiating the purchase of RTZ's building products and engineering arm for a suggested pounds 750m.

But MB does not need a rights; it is cash-rich. In April, it raised pounds 473m through the sale of its 25.3 per cent interest in the CarnaudMetalbox packaging business. It may, however, have decided that it should avoid bank borrowings and tap shareholders for additional cash.

Tarmac, the builder, needs an injection to repair its balance sheet. Rumours of a cash-raising exercise have accompanied the group as its shares have strengthened this year. The talk is a one-for-four at 110p, to produce pounds 200m. The shares rose 1.5p to 148.5p.

Northern Foods, up 5p to 277p, was supported by a Carr Kitcat & Aitken buy recommendation, but Cadbury Schweppes, off 9p at 484p, reflected worries that it is on the verge of an assault on the US soft drinks market. On Friday, it acquired 20 per cent of Dr Pepper/ Seven-Up, and there are fears it will bid for full control. Cadbury is also thought to be preparing a bid for another US soft drinks group, A&W Brands.

Vodafone, active in early dealings in New York, slipped 9p to 553p; British Aerospace dived 14p to 435p, as doubts intensified over its Taiwan business jet deal.

Royal Bank of Scotland ended 1p lower at 289p, as Scottish Equitable admitted it was the institutional investor that sold 20 million shares on Friday. The sale was said to be for 'regulatory reasons'. Scottish cut its holding from 5.23 per cent to 2.7 per cent. It has no plans for further sales.

Eurotunnel fell 17p to 444p on the sudden departure of John Prideaux, the British Rail executive in charge of the Channel tunnel rail link. Although edging off its low, Euro Disney ended 20p lower at 620p.

HSBC was hit by further disappointment from its 61 per cent owned Hong Kong offshoot, the Hang Seng Bank. Last week, the Hong Kong bank's profits did not reach expectations. Now its yearly report has failed to display the hoped for bullishness. HSBC shares, 764p last week, fell a further 18p to 707p, dragging Standard Chartered down 18p to 943p.

Amber Day, the discount clothing retailer, edged ahead 2p to 72p. EM Warburg Pincus, the US investment house, has nudged its stake to 12.06 per cent. The Americans first appeared on the Amber Day scene two weeks ago when they took a 10 per cent interest. Amber Day is thought to be preparing a rights issue to speed up the expansion of its What Everyone Wants chain.

Best-performing share was Hoskins Brewery, up 20p to 76p, following the arrival of Howard Hodgson.

Millwall, beaten 4-1 in its first game at the New Den, was the subject of a 3.5 million share placing at about 3.75p. The price ended 0.5p lower at 4.25p. There is still speculation that the company will attract an injection from a party seeking a stock market vehicle. Millwall is known to have had unsuccessful talks with the entreprenurial investor Nigel Wray, who planned to inject pounds 5m. He has, it is rumoured, lingering hopes of completing a deal.

Eidos, the little video editing group, rose 20p to 90p.

The FT-SE 100 index was in retreat throughout the day, ending 15.6 points down at 3,042. The FT-SE 250 index was lowered 15 to 3,467.4. Turnover was down to 546.8 million with 33,506 bargains. The account ends on 3 September. Government stocks were a shade lower.

Greene King has dropped Robert Fleming as its merchant bank. Fleming advised the East Anglian brewer on its takeover bid for the rival brewer Morland last year. Despite starting with more than 43 per cent of its target's shares, GK suffered one of the most embarrassing bid defeats for years. Its new adviser is Schroders. Ahead of tomorrow's shareholders meeting, the share price held at 570p.

T Cowie, the garage and leasing group, reversed 1p to 261p as Sir Tom and Lady Cowie sold 1.5 million shares. More sales are due. Sir Tom intends to reduce his shareholding, still 4.69 per cent, before he retires in December from the group he created. The shares are only a few pence from their 1993 high. They have been as low as 146p this year and in 1991 were down to 36p.

(Graph omitted)

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