Market Report: Medeva falls victim to drug sector malaise

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MEDEVA, which had appeared immune to the traumas afflicting drug shares this year, suddenly came under selling pressure yesterday.

In late trading the shares slumped 13p to 201p with some suggesting that US investors, for long supporters of the group, were becoming less enthusiastic.

This week it was disclosed that US interests held through Bank of New York ADRs had fallen to 15.71 per cent of the capital, down from 16.9 per cent.

Any American selling could not come at a worse time for the rapidly growing drugs group. A week ago Medeva launched a rights issue - its fourth since 1990 - to buy a German group specialising in cancer treatment products.

It is calling for pounds 94.4m through a one-for-four issue at 180p. The call is underwritten, so Medeva is assured of its cash. But the shares are perilously close to the rights price and further weakness could certainly deter shareholders, big and small, from taking up their entitlement.

On the day the rights issue was announced the shares closed at 230p. They have, therefore, eroded more than half the original comfort cushion between the share price and the rights price. The nil-paid rights collapsed 12p to 22.5p.

Medeva, which has expanded rapidly through acquisitions under the direction of ex-Glaxo Holdings chief executive Bernard Taylor, experienced its discomfort as other drug shares enjoyed a slightly more settled session.

The drugs sector has been devastated by worries that the Clinton administration will impose tough price curbs on US health care. But most companies have also had to contend with their own problems.

Fisons, savaged this week after abandoning its asthma drug, eased 1p to 167p. Glaxo, hit by a boardroom rift, lost 12p to 572p and Wellcome, suffering from a report on its Retrovir anti-Aids drug and a bungled investment presentation, rose 2p to 700p.

Smith & Nephew fell 4.5p to 151p following a profit warning by a US rival.

The rest of the stock market had a predictably gentle Maundy Thursday rundown to the Easter holiday. In exceedingly thin trading by recent levels, the FT-SE 100 index ended 0.3 of a point down at 2,821.8.

It has risen 428.6 points in the year since the Tory election victory. The index peak, 2,957.3, was hit last month.

RTZ edged ahead 8p to 663p with a little support from Barclays de Zoete Wedd. In this account the shares have felt the weight of the slide in the copper price.

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Downgradings took their toll. BICC had to contend with James Capel, Charter Consolidated with Hoare Govett.

BICC lost 13p to 343p as Capel lowered its 1993 forecast by pounds 8m to pounds 127m and next year's by pounds 5m to pounds 150m.

Charter fell 13p to 628p, with Hoare trimming its expectation for the year just ended by pounds 2m to pounds 70m and cutting this year's estimate by pounds 10m to pounds 58m. The group is cash-rich following the sale of its Johnson Matthey stake and the cuts largely reflect lower interest income.

Unilever remained under pressure, disconcerted by fears that the US cigarette price war will spread. The shares fell 15p to 1,115p, stretching the fall since Philip Morris started hostilities to 74p. But BAT Industries, the main casualty, steadied, gaining 13p to 887p. Rothmans International, another victim, rose 5p to 620p.

The tug-of-war over British Steel moved in favour of the bulls with S G Warburg repeating buy advice because price increases appear to be holding. The shares rose 3.5p to 81.5p.

Another back in favour was British Airways. It rose 10.5p to 283p in response to American interest sparked by signs that the US domestic airline business will be rationalised.

Marks and Spencer improved 5p to 344p, with Teather & Greenwood echoing the Capel buy recommendation. Manchester United climbed to a new peak, up 20p to 437p. This week's figures and the its leadership of the Premier League attracted buyers.

Holliday Chemical Group made a sound debut. The shares. offered at 195p, traded at 214p. MTM, the troubled chemical group in refinancing talks, tumbled 3p to 11p.

The prospect of the BT3 sale helped some financials. Warburg rose 9p to 649p and Smith New Court 9p to 210p.

A profit warning nailed Welpac, a distributor of pre- packed goods to do-it-yourself outlets. The shares dropped 8p to 30p.

Shares were becalmed. The FT-SE 100 index ended 0.3 points down at 2,821.8 and the FT-SE 250 index rose 0.6 to 3,084.3. Volume was 451.5 million shares with 24,184 bargains. Government stocks were little changed

An obscure investment trust, with only a preference quote, is the vehicle for an aggregates business. By a placing at 25p a share, Bruntcliffe Aggregates is raising pounds 3.6m and buying operations in the US and UK. Chairman is David Sawyer, once chairman of Trent Holdings. Michael Wallis, ex-managing director of Evered, is chief executive.

Associated Nursing Services has met unexpected resistance to its bid for Broadwater Homes, a BES scheme. Its offer of 135p a share has been rejected. Broadwater draws attention to an option requiring ANS, which already has 20.86 per cent, to pay up to 192.5p. Shares of ANS, which has raised pounds 1.5m for the deal, held at 220p.