Market Report: Pilkington shines as rumours speak of bid or buyout

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The Independent Online
IS ONE of the stock market's oldest takeover chestnuts about to fall? On a dull day, when most heavyweights gave ground, Pilkington soared to a 12-month high in often heavy trading.

Since the once high-flying glassmaker fought off the unwanted attentions of the then BTR conglomerate more than a decade ago, its fortunes have cracked alarmingly, prompting an almost continuous round of bid speculation.

Earlier this year, when the famous old group's future seemed to be largely behind it, the shares stumbled to 50p. In the Eighties, when Pilks' flat glass revolution was in full swing, the price nudged 350p.

Since resisting BTR, the group's trading performance has declined dramatically although under the direction of Paolo Scaroni, drafted in as chief executive, a sweeping reorganisation has put it on a much firmer footing.

In the year to March, profits emerged at pounds 118m compared with a pounds 105m loss in the previous year. Such a sharp rebound deserves a re-rating but a one-day, 8.5p bounce to 115p, coming on top of recent strength, suggest other influences are in play.

Pilks has moved ahead steadily since the 50p low hit in February.

Saint Gorbain, the French group, has often been mentioned as a likely predator but industry watchers think such a move unlikely. A US group with German links is a more plausible bidder but the story gaining ground this week is that Pilks could become the latest unhappy relic of Britain's old industrial might to opt for a management buyout; a bid price of 150p a share was the popular guess.

The rest of the market, with the noble exception of the small caps, was again engulfed in the summer-time blues.

Footsie faded 83.8 points to 6,1l8 and the mid cap index, where Pilks lurks, fell 12.7 to 5,999.1. New York, aided and abetted by interest rate fears, did most of the damage. With a record US trade deficit strengthening fears, transatlantic interest rates will be hoisted next week. Futures and option expiries, due today, were another unsettling influence. The top performing Footsie constituent was Allied Zurich, the insurance group, which rose 22.5p to 744p after Dresdner Kleinwort Benson made positive noises following meetings with AZ's Farmers operation in the US.

Rolls-Royce, the aero engine group, continued to rev up, gaining 4p (after 8.5p) to 262.5p; and Railtrack, despite the latest Westminster criticism coupled with penalty threats, managed to move ahead 16p to 1,201p.

New York stories that Glaxo Wellcome is about to agree the takeover of American Home Products was responsible for a 19p lift to 1,621p. At one time Glaxo was up 43p.

But much of the Footsie activity was negative.

British Energy adjusted for an overnight rogue trade with a 35.5p fall to 495p and Granada, still seen as a possible bidder for Whitbread, lost 31.5p to 557p.

Suggestions Diageo, the spirits giant, was planning a significant deal did little for the shares, off 21.5p to 581.5p. An announced US ice cream venture with Nestle was not the sort of corporate activity anticipated; a substantial take over or, perhaps, the flotation of its Guinness beer division was more in line with market expectations.

Thames Water remained depressed following the Turkish disaster. It has a large exposure to the earthquake area and the shares fell 25p to 817p, a new 12 month low.

Allied Carpets rose 5p to 57p as conglomerate Wassall continued to pile in, lifting its stake to 14.88 per cent and leaving discount retailer Brown & Jackson's proposed 50.5p offer looking decidedly threadbare. Industrial Control Services edged forward a further 0.75p to 19.5p in busy trading on bid hopes and Workspace Technologies added a further 12p to 225p as NTL, the US cable group, offered 228p a share.

European Leisure was the outstanding small cap, jumping 25.5p to 126.5p.

It was a question of a few nimble-footed souls catching up with the progress the shares of Allied Leisure made this week. They climbed 6p on the deal to take over the ten pin bowling side of First Leisure. The advance added value to Allied's agreed, almost completed, all-share offer for EuroLeisure which rose on the back of a handful of deals.

First Leisure added 14.5p to 242p as the sale of its nightclubs appeared to be imminent. The price is likely to be around pounds 220m and should prompt a cash return to shareholders.

A management buy-out team backed by Candover, the venture capital group, is one possibility. Luminar and Northern Leisure are among others in the running.

Range Cooker, the household appliance group, flared 2.25p to 12.5p, a peak, after entrepreneurial investor Nigel Wray emerged as a 5.09 per cent shareholder.

Netcall, following an encouraging trading statement, put on 11p to 66p and Affinity Internet, after revealing a surge in its on-line subscribers, surfed 24.5p higher to 282.5p. The company, providing Internet access for such groups as Bank of Scotland and Arsenal FC, said it now had more than 500,000 clients. It is opening offices on the Continent in the next few months. The shares were floated at 70p in May.

High flyer Photo-Me International fell 60p to 1,305p after chairman Dan David sold 200,000 shares at 1,288p.



GILTS INDEX: 106.04 + 0.24

BRAMHALL, one of those specially created stock market shells, ended at 3p following its return after the reverse takeover of Magic Moments Design.

Most of the pounds 13.5m consideration was met by the issue of shares. The company is also raising pounds 2m by placing shares at 2.5p, the price for the MMD deal.

As part of the reshaping Bramall's Quaser Sports subsidiary is being sold to a company related to two of the group's directors.

ADVANCED POWER Components could soon dial up some rewarding contracting work with BT. The shares rose 2p to 63.5p on the group's deal to provide key equipment when BT upgrades its 400 major telephone exchanges next year. It could dramatically lift APC's turnover, which was pounds 6.2m last year. Profits are due in November; they should show a modest advance over last year's pounds 930,000.

The shares were 29p in February.