Market Report: Merger rumour lifts cable groups

RUMOURS OF a big merger often occupy the stock market on Budget Day. So perhaps it was not surprising that Gordon Brown's latest offering had to contend with stories of a major telecoms get-together.

Cable groups Telewest Communications and Cable & Wireless Communications were said to be cosying up to each other and, claimed the more optimistic souls, could be near to agreeing terms.

It was enough to lift C&WC 23p (after 36p) to 735p and Telewest 8.25p to 276p. Trading in both was brisk, a distinction few shares could claim.

With most investors sitting on the sidelines, it is often suggested that the traditional Budget Day rumour is nothing more than the invention of bored minds as dealers seek to avoid dozing off or, more realistically, seek to drum up a little business.

The Tele/Cable suggestion fell on fertile ground. More mega-deals are expected in the high-flying telecom industry and an pounds 18bn tie-up would not cause many bells to ring.

Still, any merger would need the blessing of the Cable & Wireless telecoms group, down 6.5p to 850p, which embraces 53 per cent of C&WC.

But the deal would, indirectly, lead to C&WC obtaining Footsie membership, an achievement it is denied because of Footsie constituent C&W's controlling stake, which would be diluted by a merger.

Anticipating the signalled Footsie changes also occupied the market. Tomkins, the buns-to-guns conglomerate, appeared doomed to relegation into the mid cap index, a drop which only months ago would have been unthinkable.

Williams, which clawed its way back after being forced out by the emergence of Centrica two years ago, looks to be another casualty.

Energis, available for inclusion after National Grid cut its stake to below 50 per cent, and South African Breweries look certainties for admission into the charmed Footsie circle. Emap, the publisher, and Misys, the computer group, are also set for inclusion, with Gallaher and Safeway in danger.

There was considerable jockeying for position on the undercard. Scapa, due to fall out of the mid cap index, rose 7.5p to 108p as some institutions picked up shares and another withdrew a buy order, apparently taking the view that, with Albright & Wilson destined to disappear in exchange for cash, it needed to retain exposure to the chemical industry.

Albright rose 10.5p to 140p as speculation mounted of a counter-offer. Some houses expect a 180p strike.

Albright, if briefly, and Waste Recycling are others due for mid cap admission. Corporate Services, the recruitment and training group, which blotted its copybook on Monday with a profits warning, fell a further 25p to 88p, ensuing its removal.

United News & Media was little changed at 642.5p following reports that it intended to bid for Barbour Index, up 7.5p to 302.5p.

At one time Footsie was up 78.5 points, encouraged by a Tokyo index above 1,500 for the first time since November. When the Chancellor started to speak it was 12.9 higher. It rose a further 16 to close at 6,237.7 while he was on his feet. Supporting indices again moved ahead.

Even on Budget Day profit warnings flow. Building materials group Caradon fell 9p to 140p; engineer Bullough 8p to 69.5p and Geo Interactive Media 4p to 49p. Safestore, off 9.5p to 41.5p after a warning, would probably have fallen further if Safeland had not lifted its holding to 6.7 per cent.

Hays, the business support group, improved 18.75p to 695.5p after CSFB moved its stance to buy; health group Nycomed Amersham improved 14p to 474p following BT Alex.Brown support. Great Universal Stores lost 34p to 792p as CSFB put a sell sign over the shares.

Hunting put on 8.5p to 130p after clinching a pounds 50m Ministry of Defence contract for a mobile biological detection system.

Advertising group WPP rose 21.75p to 548.5p, with a weighty research note from WestLB Panmure and a hint of speculative interest providing the spur. Talk of profit downgradings hit Arcadia, off 13.5p to 204p, and the British Retail Consortium's negative survey on clothing sales left Next off 5p at 733p. However the survey's confident outlook for electrical sales, plus the Budget computers-for-all declaration, plugged Dixons into a 50p gain to 1,268p, yet another peak.

Tullow Oil duly produced an upbeat statement about its Egyptian operations but with many investors still seeking details of any Bangladesh development fell 10p to 46.5p. Cambridge Mineral Resources held at 5.5p after it reported "encouraging" results from its prospects in the Falkland Islands with "visible gold" recovered from three areas.

Metal Bulletin, where Emap has more than 20 per cent, improved 25p to 1,350p. It reported profits up from pounds 5.9m to pounds 6.8m and forecast a "number of infill acquisitions".

London Forfaiting, the trade finance group hit hard by the turmoil in Asia, put on 13p to 64.5p on vague talk of an American strike.

SEAQ VOLUME: 992.9 million


THE MARKET'S love affair with anything related to the Internet is underlined by the breathless display of Sports Internet.

On the second day of trading the shares surged 26.5p (after 50p) to 155p; they had arrived on the market at 55.5p. The company is highly ambitious, but it is still very much a blue-sky venture. It is looking for sports operations with Internet links, but it will have to run hard to justify its capitalisation of pounds 10.1m.

DRS DATA & Research firmed 1.75p to 13.75p as the market realised that its pounds 4.2m cash and near-cash was around the same as its capitalisation.

The optical scanner group provided further encouragement for its hard- pressed shareholders by slicing losses from pounds 826,000 to pounds 26,000. The shares have suffered an appalling run as profits were transformed into losses. They were at one time 120p. In August the price was down to 10p.