Market Report: Lucas indigestion after dinner in Paris

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The Independent Online
A PARISIAN dinner for 12 UK analysts put the skids under Lucas Industries, sending the shares 5p lower to 131p.

The company decided to meet analysts as part of its involvement in the Paris Air Show. The idea was to talk about the aerospace division and Lucas appeared to strike a positive note, with the aerospace managing director, Frank Turner, discussing growth opportunities and his intention to achieve a sharp improvement in financial results.

But the talk strayed to the Lucas motor component activities and the message became rather less bullish, rekindling fears of a dividend cut.

NatWest Securities turned cautious on the shares and is expected to reduce its profit forecasts. It currently expects pounds 41.5m this year and pounds 75m next.

Next week Lucas is due to meet analysts to discuss its general operations. Some fear it may feel obliged to issue a profit and dividend warning ahead of the talk-in.

Sir Anthony Gill, chairman and chief executive, took pounds 40m from reserves in April to hold the interim dividend at 2.1p. A final dividend halved to 3.5p is now expected.

Lucas shares dipped to 80p last year but have since strengthened on takeover hopes.

The group is known to be fearful of a predatory strike and is clearly on bid alert. It will be reluctant to impose a dividend cut.

There is also a succession problem. Sir Anthony is expected to be replaced as chairman by Richard Giordano, the former BOC Group chief. The search is on for a new chief executive.

Although Lucas shares could go lower the perennial takeover talk is expected to provide a prop. Siebe, the engineer, is one mentioned as a possible bidder. BTR, which took over the Hawker Siddeley engineering group, and, of course, Hanson, are among other names in the frame.

The rest of the stock market had a lacklustre session, with blue chips failing to hold early gains and the FT-SE 100 index closing 7.3 points down at 2,875.7. But second-liners, as represented by the FT-SE 250 index, edged to a new peak, with the index up 1.5 at 3,213.5.

The failure of the Bundesbank to lower its interest rates was the most unsettling influence.

Many had expected a German cut, which may have prompted the UK authorities to make a modest reduction to make sure the recovery continues to blossom. But the surprisingly good inflation and unemployment figures left the market wondering whether, after all, another cut was really necessary.

Zeneca, the Imperial Chemical Industries drug spin-off, had a busy session with an overnight 10 million trade at 624p supporting hopes that the pounds 1.3bn cash call will get a favourable response from institutional investors. But some of the confidence evaporated and the shares ended 2p down at 621p. The nil paid, fully paid today, fell 1.5p to 20p.

Other drug shares were firm, with Fisons continuing to gather support on takeover hopes, up 3p at 175p.

Food shares were generally lower, still tormented by the HJ Heinz cutbacks. Cadbury Schweppes fell 7p to 451p, Sims Food 5p to 114p and Unilever 6p to 1,030p. Even the takeover favourite, United Biscuits, softened 2p to 395p. But Dalgety turned in another advance, up 6p to 462p. The shares have climbed from 424p in the account that ends today. Booker, on the appointment of Jonathan Taylor as chairman, jumped 13p to 381p.

Perkins Foods, down 2p at 90p, drew support from the Manchester stockbroker John Siddall. The analyst Audrey Carroll expects profits this year to climb pounds 1.4m to pounds 23.5m and said the shares were oversold.

She added: 'There is no truth in the current market rumour that there are huge restructuring provisions required.'

Properties were enlivened by bizarre suggestions that Clayform, a struggling recovery group capitalised at about pounds 12m, is planning to bid for the hugely bigger MEPC or Slough Estates. Clayform shares have climbed from 14p to 37p (up another 4p) since Martin Landau arrived on Friday.

Vickers held at 140p. Yamaichi, the Japanese securities house, rates the shares a buy. It has upgraded this year's profit forecast by pounds 3m to pounds 35m and next, also by pounds 3m, to pounds 47m. Vickers has made losses in the past two years.

De La Rue rose 7p to 675p. The security printing group is thought to have met Japanese investors.

Watts Blake Bearne, the clay producer, rose 5p to 425p as NatWest Securities urged shareholders to reject the 420p offer from the Belgian Sibelco group.

'If Sibelco really wants the whole company it could afford to pay more,' NatWest said.

Regalian Properties fell 3.75p to 19.75p on disappointment with the much bigger than expected loss. Victaulic, a mechanical engineer, crashed 62p to 253p. It warned that first-half profits would be lower. The company pushed out its warning ahead of an analysts' meeting due to be held next week. Last month London International Group was rapped by the Stock Exchange for providing price-sensitive information to selected analysts.

RJB Mining remained a rarity - a new issue flop. The shares fell 9p to 228p. They were floated at 250p.

The FT-SE 100 index fell 7.3 points to 2,875.7 but the FT-SE 250 index resumed its progress - up 1.5 to 3,213.5. Turnover was an unimpressive 555.4 million shares and 29,390 bargains were recorded. The account ends today with settlement on 28 June.

Greene King, the East Anglian brewer, will have to dig deep if it resumes hostilities with Morland, the Thames Valley brewer. Morland's shares climbed 12p to a 540p peak, overtaking, for the first time, the Greene King price - unchanged at 537p. Last year Greene King's 450p offer was defeated. The strength of Morland's shares could tempt the Abbot Ale group to place its 28.5 per cent stake.

Ratners Group, the hard-pressed jeweller, was sparkling again, up 1p to 33.5p in busy trading. The action was prompted by talk of a satisfactory meeting with its bankers. Hopes abound that the debt has been successfully renegotiated and although a heavy loss is expected to be announced soon the reorganised group will be able to report a reasonably encouraging trading outlook.