Market Report: Redistribution theory has GUS shares climbing

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THE SUSPICION is growing that Great Universal Stores, the creation of the late Sir Isaac Wolfson, plans to give some of its assets to shareholders.

The group has a cash hoard of about pounds 1.5bn as well as a sprawling property portfolio.

A redistribution is seen as a logical development following last year's decision to equalise the shares, dispensing with the old-fashioned structure that gave control to the Wolfson Foundation through its interest in a thin layer of voting shares.

The shares of the high street retailer and mail order group rose 19p to 602p, with worries that the foundation is a weak holder of its remaining 8.6 per cent stake thrust into the background.

The shares have also had to battle against a 13 million placing last month by Smith New Court that probably left some loose stock in the system. SNC placed the shares at 600p.

There has been talk that GUS intends to float off its property portfolio as a separately quoted company, probably offering its shareholders beneficial terms. But the favoured outcome is a continuation of its share buy-in programme, although some think a direct cash return to shareholders is likely.

The rest of the stock market was in a more buoyant mood, with shares ending a four-day retreat that pushed the FT-SE 100 index down 76 points. The index closed with a 29.7 gain at 3,393.2 and the supporting FT-SE 250 index rose 17.9 to 4,028.5.

Lower interest rate hopes returned to grace the proceedings. The latest industrial production figures and a far from encouraging Confederation of British Industry survey rekindled worries that the economic recovery was losing its momentum even before the April round of tax increases.

It was enough to get the interest rate bandwagon rolling again, with hopes resurfacing that the Chancellor plans a staggered three-quarter point reduction in the next few months.

The bullish atmosphere was strong enough to prompt at least one takeover rumour, with builder George Wimpey gaining 7p to 230p. But trading was not heavy. The view was that any marauder would appear from overseas.

Tiphook, the container leasing group, had a predictably bumpy ride after Monday's dismal statement. The shares were at one time down to 49p. They closed at 58p, off 9p.

British Steel, a strong market lately, fell 3p to 144.5p. Last night the group was among European steel producers meeting European Union officials, who are striving to put pressure on the industry to implement the EU's drastic restructuring proposals that will lead to the closure of more steelworks.

The amount of the fine on BS over alleged price fixing should also be decided. BS protests its innocence and is expected to fight the fine.

The two generators continued to celebrate their escape from the clutches of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. National Power rose a further 8p to 499p and PowerGen 12p to 562p.

Insurance shares were firm, with yet more expansion noises from Union des Assurances de Paris intriguing the sector. France's largest and soon-to-be- privatised insurer is apparently in talks to raise further capital for international growth.

UAP is known to be interested in developing its operations in Britain. But talk of takeover bids has flowed so often that the latest expressions of interest had only limited impact.

Commercial Union rose 2p to 642p, Royal Insurance 5p to 319p and Sun Alliance - the market's favoured candidate for UAP attention - 7p to 392p.

Banks were firm, with Standard Chartered up 36p to 1,301p as Swiss Bank Corporation said buy. Kleinwort Benson, results tomorrow, rose 2p to 668p. Doubled profits of about pounds 92m are expected.

Sears, enjoying Kleinwort support, rose 4.5p to 122.5p and Allders added 4p to 231p.

Food retailers firmed after the Argyll trading statement. Kwik Save gained 17p to 590p, Tesco 3p to 229p and J Sainsbury 8p to 377p. But Argyll fell 5p to 256p.

Regional electricities were firm, helped along by hopes others will follow the example of Eastern Electricity and indulge in share buy-back exercises. Eastern, which has been buying in its own shares, rose 7p to 683p.

Jermyn Investment Co, the little property group where a trio of investors has climbed aboard buying 29.97 per cent of the votes, spurted 102p to 285p. Since the share deal was announced on Monday the shares, in a narrow market, have soared 147p.

Bourne End Properties rose 9p to 104p after the pounds 21m acquisition of three properties.

The resurgence in second-line property companies was underlined by the suspension of Prior at 7.25p. The company said it was in talks that could lead to a 'substantial' acquisition.

The FT-SE 100 index closed at its highest of the day, up 29.7 points at 3,393.2; the FT-SE 250 index rose 17.9 to 4,028.5. Turnover was 771.2 million with 29,686 bargains. The account ends on 25 February with settlement on 7 March. Gilts gave ground.

Aran Energy, the oil exploration and production group, is attracting attention. The shares firmed to 30p, fuelled by the group's interests near the big Shetland oil strike announced last week by British Petroleum. There is also talk of US developments, possibly an ADR listing in the next few months. Aran has said it intends to double production this year to 20,000 barrels a day.

Suter, the mini-conglomerate, is expected to pounce in the next few days on James Wilkes, the engineer where it has built a near 30 per cent interest. Anticipating takeover action, the market hoisted Wilkes' shares 17p to 182p. Suter, which has stalked Wilkes for more than a year, was unchanged at 217p. In 1992 Wilkes beat off a bid from Petrocon (now Beverley).