Market Report: Lonrho loses its glister as the price of gold dives

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The Independent Online
The slump in the price of gold is having a devastating impact on the shares of Lonrho, the international trading group once dominated by Tiny Rowland. With the bullion around a 12-year low, the shares fell a further 4p to 86p, worst level for four years.

As the gold price has collapsed and the pound strengthened, Lonrho has found itself under intense pressure. The classic pincer movement has occurred at a time the group is out of favour with a stock market acutely baffled by its reshaping and involvement with South Africa's unquoted Tavistock Colleries.

Profits in the year to September last year more than halved to pounds 78m. They were sharply down at the interim stage and there are worries about the outcome for the year ended last September.

Lonrho's deeper South African involvement is already a protracted affair. If the deal is completed it will created the republic's largest coal mining operation and give JCI, the South African group, 29.9 per cent of Lonrho, largely through a deal with Anglo American.

Due diligence has been completed. According to JCI "complex finalisation arrangements" are still outstanding. This could indicate haggling over the price, with Lonrho seeking to renegotiate the pounds 210m indicated in early September.

Although Lonrho has put through a number of deals in its bid to become a pure mining group it has still to complete several, including the sale of its high-profile Princess Hotels chain.

The deteriorating outlook for metals has also hit other producers such as RioTinto and Billiton.

At one time Footsie was up 90.3 points. But its advance lacked conviction. Even before New York lost a modest early gain the index was in retreat and by the close had to be content with a 30.8 gain to 4,741.8. The FTSE 250 index made headway but the FTSE SmallCap index was pulled down as some dealers hacked at its constituents.

Rolls-Royce, up 19p at 236.5p, was the best performing blue chip as the aero engine orders continued to fly in. Delta, the US airline, has selected Rolls Trent engines in a deal worth $260m with a potential value of more than $1.5bn.

Blue Circle Industries gained 13p to 343p on a rumoured Cazenove push and a boardroom shake-up at Caradon, the building materials group, lifted the shares 14.5p to 182p. It purchased 2 million shares at 179.5p.

Norwich Union, at one time up 16.75p on another takeover buzz, ended 1p higher at 364.5p as, it seemed, many small shareholders rushed to take advantage of the rumour. The London & Manchester insurance group attracted some speculative attention, up 19p at 476.5p.

Allied Domecq, on restructuring hopes, climbed 21p to 522p, and Bass was 19.5p higher at 861.5p. Goldman Sachs suggest the shares are "significantly undervalued".

The US securities house says: "Investors looking for havens of value have a lot to go for. Our analysts suggests that Bass' balance sheet is significantly under-representative of true asset value. We estimate up to pounds 700m of property value does not appear on the balance sheet."

Cash-rich Associated British Foods rose 22.5p to 540p on vague talk it may have identified a takeover target. Northern Foods, expected to produce interim profits of pounds 69m against pounds 57.8m next week, put on a further 4p to 261.5p following buy advice from a number of quarters.

J Sainsbury, taking 21 analysts to the US to see its struggling Shaw's supermarket chain, rose 9.25p to 495p.

FirstBus, likely to capture Bristol Airport, advanced 9.5p to 235.5p with Stagecoach moving ahead 42p to 813.5p in support.

Newcomer BCH, a vehicle management business, motored to 202.5p from a 190p placing.

Hat Pin fell 15p to 52.5p. The recruitment services group gave a profit warning because of what it called "an unusually low level" of moves by advertising personnel.

The Anglesey Mining run came to a halt, with the shares off 3.25p to 13.25p. On Ofex Crediton Minerals, on the prospect of Devon gold, rose a further 3p to 26p.

Taking Stock

Advanced Power Components, which achieved the distinction of producing a profits warning just three months after arriving on the market, held at 59.5p. The shares were floated at 70p. A profit of pounds 1.5m had been expected but stockbroker Henry Cooke Lumsden believes the company will have to settle for around pounds 900,000 when it reports next month. For the current year Henry Cooke is looking for pounds 1.5m. APC makes components for the integrated services digital network and should benefit from BT's plans to make a high-speed Internet service available to every home through an ISDN upgrade.

Talk of corporate excitement at Tullow Oil is going the rounds again. The shares jumped 10p to 136p, a new closing high. BG is one name in the frame.