Market Report: Researchers take the fizz out of drink shares

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The Independent Online
THE STOCKBROKER James Capel had a sobering impact on drink shares.

They had been strong since beer and spirits escaped higher taxes in the Budget and the better-than-expected performance by the industry leader Bass.

With stories that Christmas trading was providing its traditional comfort, there were hopes that the sector's underperformance was coming to an end.

But Capel's researchers have concluded that the festive season has yet to produce the expected bumper trading.

They say sales in November and early December were disappointing, reinforcing the view that Christmas is starting later each year.

The stockbroker moved Whitbread shares from a buy to a hold and said profits should be realised in Bass, Scottish & Newcastle and the pub owner Greenalls Group.

Bass fell 9p to 558p, Greenalls 5p to 450p and Whitbread 8p to 579p. Scottish managed to remain aloof, firming 1p to 542p.

Elsewhere the stock market dwelt on the forecasts of its sprawling army of strategists. Even after this year's exhilarating performance, a record-breaking run is expected next year.

Many believe the FT-SE 100 index will be hovering around 3,600 points in 12 months. But Nicholas Knight, the Nomura analyst who was comfortably ahead of the pack with his 3,500 prediction for this year, has moved his target to 4,000.

Even the more cautious forecasters believe the index will hit new peaks next year but will run out of steam in the second six months.

Shares were on the side of the bulls yesterday. After sluggish early trading prices picked up, helped by futures trading. By the close the top 100 index was up 13.3 at 3,355.7.

And the supporting FT-SE index covering the next 250 shares kept up the record-breaking momentum, gaining 20.1 to 3,727.

Some stores scored from thoughts of bumper Christmas sales. Laura Ashley gained 7p to 82p, Church & Co 22p to 360p and Storehouse 4p to 235p.

Marks and Spencer, with a little help from Hoare Govett, rose 3.5p to 340.5p.

Among the smaller groups Essex Furniture put on 15p to 198p and Upton & Southerns, a revamped department store operation, 0.5p to 4.25p.

Imperial Chemical Industries was lowered 4p to 754p. BZW was responsible, reducing its profit forecasts and moving from buy to hold. This year's forecast is cut by pounds 10m to pounds 200m and next year's by pounds 40m to pounds 460m.

On Monday Hoare Govett said that ICI should be sold. The failure of the European ethylene talks is seen as putting added pressure on the chemicals group.

Coats Viyella, the textile group, also felt the weight of BZW attention. The securities house lowered from pounds 153m to pounds 147m and pounds 193m to pounds 185m but declared that Coats remained its favourite textile share.

The shares fell 8.5p to 259.5p, shrugging aside reassuring comments from Coats that this year's results would be in line with most market forecasts ( pounds 150m) and although trading was tough it remained 'positive' on the outlook.

United Biscuits, seeing analysts, fell 2p to 354p. Argyll and Kwik Save suffered from Hoare Govett caution. But in a firm media sector Reed International, up 22p to 890p, drew inspiration from positive comments, thought to be from Goldman Sachs.

British Gas remained under pressure from the ending of its gas monopoly, falling 13.5p to 333.5p. Kleinwort Benson said the shares were a buy.

Financials were firm. The management changes at Kleinwort lifted the shares 30p to 591p. SG Warburg went to new peak, up 12p at 942p.

National Home Loans shaded 0.25p to 8.75p. But the convertible preference shares were hoisted 4.5p to 34.5p. Jonathan Perry, chairman, has acquired 100,000.

Euro Disney's discomfort continued as its auditors warned it may 'be unable to continue as a going concern' if a restructuring is not completed. The shares fell 8p to 395p.

A warning from engineer J Billam that year's profits will be about pounds 100,000 against pounds 479,000 sent the shares crashing 50p to 219p. But a forecast year's dividend of 5.3p (5p) eased the downward pressure.

Flextech's signalled deal with the US TeleCommunications giant continued to spur the shares, up a further 29p at 382p.

Rodime's remarkable headway continued with a 3.5p gain to 28p. The shares have risen 9.25p this week as the market has anticipated a favourable outcome to US legal action.

Bullough, the heating and refrigeration group, jumped 13p to 150p. Gordon Bond, who quit as a director of the Arjo Wiggins Appleton packaging group last week, has been appointed chief executive.

The FT-SE 100 index rose 13.3 points to 3,355.7 and the FT-SE 250 index went to a peak with a 20.1 gain to 3,727. Turnover remained strong at 779.2 million shares from 30,734 deals. The account ends on 31 December with settlement on 10 January.

A rare deal in shares of National Grid Holdings, operating the English and Welsh electricity transmission system. On the 535 market shares changed hands at 729p. NGH is largely owned by the regional electricity companies. A few shares are held for employees and it is thought the sale was on behalf of a retiring worker. At 729p NGH is valued at more than pounds 1.7bn.

Rackwood Mineral Holdings, a Derby-based open-cast coal miner, is on its way to the stock market. The stockbroker Greig Middleton is placing more than 9 million shares at 40p, raising pounds 2.7m for the company. Dealings are expected to start on 6 January. The latest newcomer is among those expecting to grow from the proposed privatisation of British Coal.

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