Market Report: P&G presentation could kick Unilever off the stage

Every so often Procter & Gamble bemuses the stock market by holding a City investment presentation. Such an event, expected today, invariably prompts talk the US detergent behemoth, not quoted in London, is planning to swoop on a UK enterprise.

Reckitt & Colman, the household toiletries group where many suspect Unilever nurses predatory ambitions, could be in P&G's sights. Unilever, the Anglo Dutch food and soaps giant, has clearly grown beyond the reach of the Ariel to Fairy group.

Such is the fierce competition between P&G and Unilever that some wonder whether the Americans are merely intent on upstaging Unilever, due to produce first-quarter figures on Friday. Many believe the US group just wants to emphasise its UK presence and underline its ability to strike at a target, if it so desires.

Unilever appeared to be unruffled by the prospect of its deadly rival hobnobbing with City fund managers and analysts. Its shares were unchanged at 1,623.5p, near their peak. Reckitt dipped 7p to 830.5p.

Blue chips, swayed again by New York, were on form with Footsie gaining 20 points to 4,389.7. The supporting FTSE 250 index was rather less enthusiastic. On the surface it looked a fairly active session. But in reality the market was merely marking time with tiddlers like Dragon Oil (3.5p) and Minmet (5.5p) making a near 10 per cent contribution to volume.

Financials, seen as relatively immune from the expected Government change, once again were the major influences behind Footsie's romp.

The underweight position of many fund managers was the other consideration. Once Halifax and the rest have followed Alliance & Leicester onto the market many funds are likely, under their own articles, to be short of financial shares. So the desire to quickly increase representation in the financial sector, be it banks or insurances, is understandable.

The banks once again stormed ahead, led by Lloyds TSB with a 19p gain to 576p. Insurances joined the romp. Prudential Corporation rose 15p to 591p and Legal & General 8p to 408.5p.

Cable & Wireless Communications touched 306.5p, closing at 299.5p. The result of a four-way merger it is the nation's second-largest telephone company and largest cable operation with a value of around pounds 4.5bn. Cable & Wireless greeted its offspring with a 7.5p gain to 479p.

Hambros, the merchant bank halted its slide with a grovelling apology to the Co-op. After falling 10.5p the price rallied to 242p, up 5p.

Vickers, still suffering from a profit warning, climbed 3.5p to 210.5p following support from BZW and ABN Amro Hoare Govett.

Williams Holdings jumped 15p to 333p after the Department of Trade & Industry cleared its bid for Chubb Security, up 22.5p to 447.5p.

Caspian, the Leeds Utd group run by Chris Akers, fell 2p to 26.5p (against a year's high of 46.75p) as Robin Launders, ex-Manchester Utd finance director, quit as chief executive. His departure occurs as Burden Leisure, the old Mosaic Investments which acquired Bolton Wanderers, is due to return to market. Mosaic was suspended at 53p; the shares could kick off today at 75p.

TLG, the old Thorn Lighting, was little changed at 112p as Wassall, the ambitious conglomerate, lifted its stake to 5.6 per cent.

Quality Care Homes jumped 37p to 311p after saying a bid loomed. Two years ago chairman Duncan Bannatyne rejected an offer from Sun Health, a US company. He has around half of the capital. Raine, the builder, firmed 0.25p to 19.25p as Alfred McAlpine emerged as the likely bidder.

Another profit warning lowered WEW, the retailer, 2.5p to 16.5p; BSM, blaming the written element of the driving test, reversed 38p to 103.5p after signalling profit problems. Shield Diagnostic continued to feel the impact of director sales, falling 47.5p to 480p.

Partners, a stationery chain placed at 150p, rose to 169.5p. Epic MultiMedia put on 3p to 20p on its Abbey National link.

Dragon Oil remained the in-demand share, gaining 0.75p to 3.5p with turnover hitting almost 55 million. Still with around 5.5 billion shares in issue there is plenty of scope for trading the stock. Like so many tertiary oils there are, now it is on the move, a variety of stories flying around; they include bullish talk about its Thailand prospect and growing optimism over the likely returns from its Caspian Sea strike. In August the shares were 1p.

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