Market Report: Ladbroke off to a poor start in festive stakes

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The Independent Online
LADBROKE GROUP was the most pronounced casualty on the first day of the long Christmas trading account.

The shares fell 11p to 169p in heavy trading. On Friday they lost 4p.

Smith New Court, one of the leisure group's brokers, started the latest discomfort by lowering its profit estimates. Yesterday it was the turn of the rest of the pack and with many brokers, unlike SNC, stripping out the controversial hotel property profits, the damage looked even more compelling.

SG Warburg, also broker to Ladbroke, smashed its 'clean' figure to pounds 142m. UBS Phillips & Drew moved from pounds 175m to pounds 150m.

The stock market has been flat-footed by a sharp increase in Ladbroke's borrowings and what would appear to be a 25 per cent slide in hotel profits in the second half.

Ladbroke's difficulties are expected to continue into next year. UBS says prospects are difficult to assess - estimating between pounds 140m and pounds 160m.

For UBS the downturn at Ladbroke is something of an embarrassment. The investment house included the betting and hotel group as one of its 10 share tips for next year. It has now felt obliged to change its recommendation from buy to sell.

The rest of the market managed only a token response to the Edinburgh summit. The FT- SE 100 index ended 5.6 points higher in moderate trading.

Hopes that the Christmas account will once again produce a rip-roaring Footsie display helped sentiment. In Christmas trading last year it gained 147 points.

Much of the progress stemmed from futures-related trading as traders scrambled to cover FT-SE 100 index positions by the last business day of the month. Their activities, therefore, occurred when the cash market was operating on a skeleton staffing level and probably had an exaggerated impact.

But any late rush this year will take place in more normal conditions, following the switching of the final trading day. In the current account last dealings will be on Friday.

With a huge number of contracts still outstanding the market could experience some volatile activity this week, although many contracts will undoubtedly be rolled over or closed.

Asda, interim figures on Friday, rose 2.75p to 54.75p. The market expects about pounds 37m. There are also suggestions that the supermarket group is about to receive a cash injection from a property sale, possibly its interest in the Burwood House operation.

The pub owner JA Devenish rose 15p to 254p. Its results, due on Thursday, are expected to emerge at about pounds 13.5m. But County NatWest is looking for pounds 12.7m. Boddington Group, which made an unsuccessful offer and has been free to resume hostilities since the summer, still has a 19.5 per cent stake. If Devenish does disappoint it could decide to bid again.

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In the meantime downgradings ruled the roost. Barclays de Zoete Wedd cut its TI Group estimates on the suspicion the Dowty Group acquisition will restrict progress. Switching its recommendation to sell, BZW clipped this year's estimate from pounds 115m to pounds 105m and next from pounds 150m to pounds 130m. Carr Kitcat & Aitken and BZW trimmed their hopes for the Coats Viyella textile group. The shares were unchanged at 112p.

London International Group, up 3p to 249p, ignored further selling by Genting, the Malaysian group that unloaded 600,000 shares, cutting its stake to 3.91 per cent. Genting has built a 7.3 per cent interest in Lonrho, 1p higher at 73p.

Resort Hotels continued to claw its way back after hitting a 16p low. The shares ended 3.5p higher at 29p in busy trading. Sleepy Kids, the animation group, added 5p to 33p as hopes of a significant trading advance gathered strength. A change of name is likely.

TV-Am was the day's biggest faller, slumping 45p to 25p. But much of the fall reflected the stripping out of a 40p-a-share dividend. The company has lost its television franchise and is expected to opt for liquidation. Its shares are likely to be relegated to the 535 trading facility.

As so often occurs in the Christmas account, some third or fourth liners were singled out for attention, often in anticipation of share tips. Among those on the move were International Media Communications, up 1p to 5.5p, Ferranti, 1.75p to 10p, and retailer Brown & Jackson, 0.5p to 10.25p.

Tadpole Technology's remarkable stock market career continued with the shares surging to 237p, before relapsing to 179p, down 15p. They arrived last week at 65p.

The FT-SE 100 index of leading shares ended 5.6 points higher at 2,721.8. It moved between a 6.4 fall and a 9.9 gain. The FT-SE 250 index closed 5.9 higher at 2,667.9. Trading was a subdued 438.4 million shares with 24,244 bargains logged. Government stocks moved narrowly

Clinton Cards, the greeting cards retailer, should swing from a pounds 200,000 loss to a pounds 1.5m profit in the year to January, according to Williams de Broe, the stockbroker. Philip Haggard, an analyst, expects a further recovery to pounds 3.2m in the following year. The shares, down to 58p this year, edged ahead 2p to 103p yesterday. They touched 297p last year on profits of pounds 5m.

Cable and Wireless, weak recently, gained 20p to 667p. Hopes that the Hong Kong market is stabilising were one influence. But stories also surfaced that a leading US authority had named its Hongkong Telecom offshoot as the best-run communications network in the world. Suggestions that its Mercury division faces less intense competition from BT were another factor.

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