Market Report: Mobile phones sound an anguished ring

MOBILE PHONES had an anguished ring as the stock market fretted about increased regulatory interference. Vodafone fell 27p (after 42p) to 698p; Orange 14p to 567p and BT, which controls Cellnet, 9p to 787p. Securicor, with the Cellnet minority, lost 13p to 367p.

Dave Edmonds, director general of telephone regulator Oftel, expressed concern over the weekend about the level of competition in the industry and said he intended to probe the mobile phone industry in the New Year. Due to the mobile phone retreat telecoms was the worst performing sector, falling almost 1.4 per cent.

The rest of the market, despite busy trading with share turnover again topping 1 billion, turned in a muted display, ignoring a buoyant New York. Footsie struggled to a 32.5 points gain to 5,093.5, and the mid cap index rose 24.1 to 4,553. But for the small caps it was another dismal session with the index hitting a new low this year, down 8.9 to 2,002.6. Hopes of an interest rate cut, possibly half-a-point, spurred American shares.

Norwich Union, the insurance group, was one of the best performing blue chips, strengthening 27p to 460p as take-over stories resurfaced.

Once again Halifax, which won Westminster clearance for its take- over of Birmingham Midshires Building Society, was the name in the frame. With the mortgage market becoming increasingly competitive the old building societies are finding it increasingly difficult to hold their market share. As margins continue to narrow they are thought to be casting around for diversification and insurance is seen as a likely direction for the likes of Halifax, down 8.5p to 753.5p.

Glaxo Wellcome shaded 5p to 1,703p after confirming it had developed a treatment, Relenza, which shortens the life of the flu bug and reduces its impact. The pharmaceutical giant also reported positive developments on the HIV front.

Boots firmed 14p to 1,008p ahead of meetings with analysts and Kingfisher added 8p to 533p with SG Securities putting a 600p tag on the shares.

Cadbury Schweppes was lowered 13.5p to 775p after Merrill Lynch lost some of its enthusiasm, and Coca-Cola Beverages rose 3p to 155.5p despite BT Alex.Brown's sell advice. The investment house has, following Friday's uninspiring trading statement from the parent Coca-Cola group, reduced its estimates of today's half-year profits to a bottom-of-the-range pounds 16m. Some houses are looking for pounds 22m.

Tate & Lyle, the sugar group, failed to respond to Lehman Brothers' enthusiasm, shading to 319.5p. The securities group put a 600p target on the shares.

Booker, the struggling cash and carry chain, greeted the arrival of John Napier, chairman, and Stuart Rose, chief executive, with a 15p gain to 106.5p. The dream team has plenty of scope for improvement; Booker's shares were 479p five years ago.

TLG, the lighting group, fell 11.5p to 171.5p, after Wassall, re-inventing itself as a venture capital group, won the take-over struggle with its pounds 353m offer. Wassall fell 11p to 226.5p.

Business Post's headlong plunge came to an end with the shares, 957.5p in spring, rallying 52.5p to 277.5p.

Carlton Communications, rumoured to be planning a bid for Aston Villa, firmed 12p to 400p after a presentation on its ONdigital launch. Its partner Granada gained 27p to 785p. The football club's shares, helped along by its PremierShip lead, gained 47.5p to 707.5p.

Billiton improved on the firmer commodity prices with the South African group 11.25p higher at 137.75p. Oils responded to recent signs the crude oil price was hardening - Richard Savage at SG Securities forecasts an $18 a barrel level, currently around $14.60, within a few months. British Petroleum gained 17.5p to 889.5p but Shell, still unsettled by its profits warning, gave up 12p to 356p. Land Securities, the property group, lost 22p to 908p as Merrill Lynch grew cautious.

Railtrack was on the express line, reaching a 1,660p peak, up 54p, with work due to start next month on the high-speed link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

Stentor, the Irish telecoms business, fell 31.5p to 26p before being suspended "pending a further announcement". Superframe, which makes and designs retail display units, gained 4.5p to 17.5p. The group is thought to be the target for Mike Macdonald, chairman of Sheffield United, who is said to be seeking a vehicle for some of his unquoted interests. Dean Corporation, the house builder and property services group, has more than 29 per cent.

Devro, the sausage skin maker said to be on bid alert, gained 13.5p to 243.5p and hopes of corporate action at Zetters, the pools group, produced a 12.5p advance to 117.5p.

Chloride was little changed at 40.5p as Albert E Sharp made favourable noises, pointing out the electrical group should have pounds 32m cash by March, equal to 13p a share.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.09bn

SEAQ TRADES: 54549

GILT INDEX: 112.38 + 0.86

HARTFORD, NOW taking in the trendy Pharmacy restaurant in London's Notting Hill, returned to market at 2p against the 0.75p at which the shares were suspended while the take-over went through.

The company is intent on rolling out the Pharmacy concept in European cities and New York. It is also looking at the possibility of establishing a chain of fast-food outlets based on kebab shops in this country.

ARLEN, THE electrical group that is in talks to sell a major part of its operations, firmed to 29.5p. There is talk AIM-traded CCI Holdings could emerge as the buyer. Simon Beart, who helped build up the Brittons paper and packaging group, has moved in on CCI, which used to make clay pigeons, and is known to be seeking acquisitions.

The shares are 125p; they had, before the Beart arrival, been 190.5p.

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