Market Report: Price wars in DIY market knock a hole in Ladbroke

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The Independent Online
A SPATE of profit downgrades by leisure analysts yesterday took shares in Ladbroke, the Hilton hotels, betting shops and Texas Homecare group, down to their lowest level for more than a year.

The price war among the do-it- yourself retailers has caused the main damage. Analysts say that Texas Homecare is finding the going tough, particularly against B&Q, the main rival DIY business owned by Kingfisher.

Smith New Court, joint stockbroker to Ladbroke, started the ball rolling late on Tuesday, cutting its profit forecast for this year from pounds 152m to pounds 140m pre-tax and for 1994 from pounds 203m to pounds 175m.

BZW went a stage further yesterday, lowering its 1993 prediction by pounds 12m to pounds 138m. NatWest Markets has cut from pounds 153m to pounds 147.5m, which includes a pounds 10m special dividend from Ladbroke's shareholding in Satellite Information Services.

Trading in Ladbroke was heavy with 10 million shares turned over. The shares, off 8p at one stage, closed 1p lower at 156p on a generally buoyant day for the market.

There was talk that the shares could come under further pressure today. The final trade yesterday was struck at 155p.

Dealers believe that Ladbroke will have to reduce its dividend payout from last year's 11.15p to perhaps as low as 7.75p.

They also believe that the new management installed recently at Texas could use this year's results as an opportunity for making write-offs.

Ladbroke was just one of 18 constituents in the FT-SE 100 share index to record a fall yesterday. And only two other stocks finished unchanged.

Footsie reclaimed ground above 3,100 right from the bell - stalling just once in early morning dealings - and closed 22.5 points higher at 3,120.

The market was initially buoyed by the strong overnight performance on Wall Street, which saw the Dow Jones advance 33 points to a record 3,710.77 on hopes that Congress would soon ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement.

There was no holding the advance in London once the market took stock of better-than-expected inflation of 1.4 per cent. Little attention was paid to the slowdown in retail sales.

Sentiment was also bolstered by a big cut in interest rates in Belgium from 9.4 to 8.3 per cent.

Gilts were also encouraged by the UK inflation figures, registering gains of pounds 5 8 .

Overall equity trading was good with more than 662 million shares changing hands across almost 29,000 bargains.

Despite the market's bullishness, there were some big fallers. Tiphook, the heavily indebted transport group, continued to jangle investors' nerves and dropped 10p to another low of 48p. The shares traded at 585p at the back end of 1991 and at more than 350p earlier this year.

The fall yesterday was largely sparked by investors' concern over who was running the company - the bankers or the management.

Tiphook is negotiating the sale of its container business, a disposal which dealers have construed as a sign of pressure from banks to reduce the company's pounds 1.2bn of debts.

The shares were also put under pressure by reports that P&O, up 23p to 565p, was preparing to increase its container prices.

Betterware was depressed further by more adverse comment about its growth prospects. The price dropped by 13p to a year's low of 145p.

Among the Footsie fallers yesterday was HSBC, undermined by reports that Morgan Stanley was advising clients to reduce their portfolio weightings from 7 to 5 per cent. Morgan declined to comment.

HSBC dipped 18p to 734p. However, the rival banking group Standard Chartered, which also initially fell on Morgan's action, rallied towards the close and finished 2p better at pounds 10.37.

Cable and Wireless lost 17p to 473p on profit-taking in Hong Kong. Volume trading was high at 5.4 million.

The company is due to report interim figures today. City forecasts range between pounds 490m and pounds 520m, against the pounds 378m attained in the same period last year. UBS is looking for an 11 per cent dividend increase to 2.65p.

The shares were also unsettled by speculation that the Chinese government might place some of its 20 per cent holding in Hongkong Telecom, which is 57 per cent owned by C&W.

Yesterday's clutch of company results met with a mixed response. Courtaulds suffered more than most as analysts downgraded forecasts after disappointing interim figures from the chemical company.

Courtaulds slumped 44p to 432p. SG Warburg lowered its full- year forecast by pounds 37m to pounds 180m and by pounds 45m to pounds 165m for 1994/5.

Brent Walker gained 0.75p to 5.25p on hopes of a sale soon of its William Hill betting shops.

Greene King eased 16p to 551p amid talk that the brewer was about to acquire pubs.

Share prices advanced strongly, pushing the FT-SE 100 index back above 3,100. Up by 28.6 points at one stage, the index closed 22.5 higher at 3,120. The FT-SE 350 rose 10.3 to 1,552. Account ends on 26 November, and settlement is on 6 December.

Unigate lost 12p to 355p after Nutricia, its Dutch associate, said it had found disinfectant in 20 of its baby food products. Nutricia, which contributes about 14 per cent of Unigate's profits, has recalled 1 million jars of baby food in the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Portugal. Nutricia said the action would have a 'clear influence' on its profit expectations for 1993.

Banner Homes is upgrading from SEAT to a full listing in mid-December. The upmarket housebuilder is also raising pounds 2.9m via a two-for-seven rights issue at 89p a share to fund expansion. Stuart Crossley, chairman and chief executive, who holds sway over 79.8 per cent of Banner, has agreed to place all the nil paid rights entitlements. Shares eased 2p to 96p.

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