Market Report: New-fangled financials hit as old-timers steer clear

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The Independent Online
SHARES of Schroders, the investment and merchant banking group, are having a tough time.

They have fallen from an exhilarating high of 1,438p to 1,108p, down a further 20p yesterday.

The shares of one of the City's most respected securities groups are in danger of being elbowed from the exclusive FT-SE 100 index club at this month's composition meeting.

The narrow market in the shares and the two-tier voting structure have, in many eyes, weighed against the group's role, which it accepted reluctantly, in the index. They were first included last year.

Later this month Schroders is due to reveal its results. They will, on the surface, be outstanding. For the first time it reveals its true profits.

It has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world of shareholder communication by the European Union.

Although the EU requirements have been known for some time Schroders has refused to comply until time ran out. Last year's interim announcement extended to just three sentences containing nothing quite so crude as a pre-tax profit figure.

Ahead of the figures Barclays de Zoete Wedd has lifted its profit estimate from pounds 170m to pounds 180m. Under the old discretionary system Schroders announced pounds 64m for last year. BZW is quite keen on the shares but Smith New Court has this week been suggesting that clients should sell.

Schroders was not the only financial share suffering discomfort.

The stock market gyrations this year have thrown the spotlight on the financial sector. When share trading is booming the securities houses are obviously doing well. But when shares see-saw with alarming rapidity and volume slumps profits can easily be wiped out.

The mushrooming growth of the derivatives markets adds to the unease. A great many old-style stock market operators admit that they do not understand the new- fangled markets and are convinced that they represent a potential black hole for the securities industry.

Their caution has wide support; hence the almost daily stories that an international bank, noted for its sophisticated deals, has come a cropper.

Financial shares, therefore, remained under pressure in another volatile session that resulted in the FT-SE 100 index swinging from a 30.5 gain to a 17.2 loss, ending at 3,246.5. down 1.6.

Banks were mostly lower; so were insurances, merchant banks and other securities groups.

But the stock market drew comfort from calmer bond markets. Hopes that Britain will go it alone with an interest rate cut linger. But turnover was again relatively low, with futures trading dictating the proceedings.

Siebe, the engineer, ran ahead of a rumoured presentation today, up 12p at 607p. Tarmac, on reported US buying, rose 3p to 199p.

Reuters, also enjoying US attention, jumped 45p to 2,034p; Granada, still basking in the success of its LWT (Holdings) bid, rose 10p to 549p on talk of a bullish heavyweight circular.

A positive presentation at Smith New Court helped Scottish & Newcastle 3p better to 551p and Stakis, the revitalised hotel group, enjoyed a 1p gain to 86p following a lunchtime meeting at Panmure Gordon.

MFI, the flat pack furniture group, fell 2p to 164p. Barclays de Zoete Wedd, in an internal note, apparently describe the shares as 'overvalued'.

Manchester United's increasing chance of completing the cup and league triple pushed the shares to a new peak of 700p, up 15p.

Bass, the brewing group, put on 9p to 533p as the rumour that it planned to sell control of the Britvic soft drink group bubbled yet again. The suggestion is that PepsiCo, the US soft drink and fast food giant, which already has a 10 per cent stake, will buy the rest of the capital from Bass and the other shareholders, Allied-Lyons and Whitbread. A price of pounds 430m is mentioned.

Ladbroke's eagerly awaited figures left the shares 10p down at 199p. Forte continued to benefit from speculation about its intentions towards the Savoy Hotel. The shares, regarded as far too high on trading considerations by some analysts, moved ahead still further, up 5p to 269p. Savoy 'A' put on 13p to 1,063p.

Euro Disney had another roller-coaster session, ending up 10p to 385p. Bankers meet this month in a bid to agree a formula for a refinancing.

Danka Business Systems, up 7p to 369p, denied any interest in Southern Business Group, down 3p at 95p.

Mersey Docks & Harbour Co jumped 11p to 511p in late trading as the dispute with former dock workers at its Medway Ports off- shoot was resolved. It said it had made provisions for the settlement and there would be no 'material' impact on the year's results.

Exploration Co of Louisiana, US based but London listed, jumped 19p to 70p on talk its off-shore China block was showing encouraging results. The group has had an erratic career, with its shares approaching 300p at one time. The 197-square mile Zhao Dong block is regarded as its last big hope for a rich strike. Over the years it has been forced to sell many of its prime assets.

Talk persists in the hotel industry that Mount Charlotte Investments, Britain's second-largest hotel group, is planning to return to the stock market in the near future. It was taken over, more by accident than design, by Brierley Investments, the New Zealand group, in 1990. Brierley still has 70 per cent, with the Singapore government accounting for a slice of the capital.