Market Report: Problems at USAir drag BA down again

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The Independent Online
British Airways ran into more US turbulence as the stock market market fretted that it will feel obliged to write off its pounds 258m investment in USAir, the deeply troubled American airline.

The deed, ran the story, will accompany the interim results due next month.

BA's shares have come down from 495p this year. The travails at USAir have been a significant influence. On Tuesday the airline produced another set of disastrous figures, heightening fears it will eventually be forced to seek protection under the US Chapter 11 bankruptcy provisions.

USAir represents an important part of BA's international investment strategy. But the American group, with the highest costs in the airline industry, is in desperate need of restructuring.

The BA fears were highlighted by institutional sales. It was said at least two institutions unloaded shares. One operated through SG Warburg, which had difficulty placing 4.9 million, at 348p against a then ruling price of 353p.

The shares ended 10.5p down at 353.5p.

The rest of the stock market managed to throw off its recent tribulations and the FT-SE 100 index rose 29.7 points to 3,029.6, but trading was again so thin that few, if any, investment houses covered their overheads.

Soothing words from the the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, on inflation and interest rates helped sentiment; so did a firmer New York display.

Government stocks rose by up to pounds 11 4 .

There was talk of more institutions getting cold feet about their investments in smaller companies.

They fear they could become unmarketable if yesterday's performance turns out to be another dead cat bounce and shares continue to decline.

VSEL attracted attention with a late bounce to 1,323p, up 15p. Hoare Govett, the company's stockbroker, was said to be in the market although there was no evidence of substantial purchases.

General Electric Co, which has been pondering the possibility of countering the agreed British Aerospace offer, was said to be about to stir and could announce an offer today.

GEC fell 3.5p to 270.5p and BAe rose 6p to 473p.

Unigate, the food and transport group, was another in demand on suggestions of a development today - completion of the long-rumoured sale of its 33 per cent interest in Nutricia, a Dutch baby food group.

Heinz, which has been the subject of takeover speculation, remains the favourite to strike although Nestle is thought to hover.

Any deal would have a dramatic impact on Unigate, possibly producing pounds 250m. With the group's traditional milk business coming under pressure from the Government-imposed changes in distribution there is a theory that Unigate would quickly use any cash inflow for a bid - possibly swallowing Hazlewood Foods, up 3p at 124p. Unigate gained 9p to 337p.

BAT Industries was another caught by sale speculation. The shares gained 15p to 432p on talk that it was planning to float off its Eagle Star and Allied Dunbar insurance and financial services division.

Allied Domecq led drinks higher, up 13p to 587p, on the proposed sale of its Dutch brewery and the Dalgety declaration that it was interested in buying part of its food operations. Dalgety rose 3p to 432p.

Scottish Hydro-Electric was unchanged at 313p. There was talk it would call analysts to a meeting today. Rank Organisation, up 3.5p to 409.5p, is due to meet analysts today.

Pearson rose 18p to 613p as the build-up to the proposed BSkyB satelitte television launch began. WPP, the advertising group, responded to Warburg support, up 4p at 109p.

Medeva improved 9p to 174p on its legal victory in the row over its hepatitis B vaccine; the building products group Redland put on 12p to 461p in response to its proposed Frankfurt share quote.

Scantronic rose 2.5p to 20p as Menvier-Swain nudged its stake higher but Tottenham Hotspur's latest setback left the shares 9p down at 119p.

Newcomer Irish Permanent, a former building society, reached 215p from a 178p sale price.

The FT-SE 100 index advanced 29.7 points to 3,029.6 with the supporting FT-SE 250 index up 12.9 at 3,480.1. Turnover was low, just 507.2 million shares. Only 21,112 bargains were logged. Government stocks were strong.

Petroceltic, a tertiary exploration group floated at 38p in July, bumps along at 25p. Capitalised at pounds 2m it has pounds 1.3m in cash and a royalty interest said to be worth 30p a share. It also has acreage off the Irish coast, near to a block where, it is widely suspected, the Marathon Oil giant has made a gas discovery. An interesting share, but only for the brave.

Alliance Resources edged ahead 0.5p to 11.25p, a new high, after it duly confirmed it had made an encouraging find at its Valentine Field in Louisiana. John O'Brien, chairman, described the strike as a 'major discovery'. Last month Alliance indicated its Louisiana operations could be exciting and there is already talk it could be bid for its interest.

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