MARKET REPORT : Seeboard rises on takeover speculation

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The Independent Online
The FT-SE 100 index jumped 40.2 points to 3,013.6 after an early 20.2 fall on the news of the Conservatives' humiliation in the Dudley by-election. There was also a strong rise in the supporting FT-SE 250 index, up 23.2 to 3,437.1. Turnover was a n impressive 750.3 million shares with 21,292 bargains, highest this week, recorded. In dull trading, government stocks barely stirred from their opening levels.

Seeboard is thought to be the next utility to attract takeover attention. In busy trading the shares moved to a new peak, up 9p to 472p.

Speculators, still basking in the success of spotting the Northern Electric bid action, feel Seeboard, currently valued at £1.1m, represents an ideal target for a conglomerate wishing to tap into the electricity industry's huge cash resources.

Seeboard was one of the electricity shares that resisted the predictable profit-taking following the big gains scored in the past few weeks.

Yorkshire Electricity's 90p super dividend and its proposal to hand National Grid shares to shareholders also powered the sector. Yorkshire, with the special dividend stripped out, fell 60p to 687p, an effective gain of 30p.

Waters were also firm, with investors taking the view they could emerge as takeover targets next year.

The utility excitement helped the stock market to turn in its best display for eight weeks. The FT-SE 100 index rose 40.2 points to end the week above 3,000 .

Futures activity helped squeeze prices higher but the outbreak of corporate action, even if the SG Warburg-Morgan Stanley merger talks ended in acrimony after only a week, continued to encourage interest.

With New York enjoying an impressive opening, the market was again happy to ignore the package of doubts and worries that have weighed heavily on shares since the autumn.

The expiry of the December Footsie futures contract went smoothly although some traders thought they detected a head-on tussle between Morgan Stanley and Smith New Court in the dying minutes.

But the anxieties are likely to resurface at any time, and although shares have made progress this week, with the FT-SE 100 up 36.3 in often eventful trading., the atmosphere remains fragile. Some of the more optimistic souls claimed the festive rally was actually under way, if more muted than in previous years.

With trading likely to be thin in the last two weeks of the year it would not take much buying interest to produce a spectacular upsurge.

Even so there is clearly no chance of a repetition of last year's record-breaking performance, when the index soared more than 350 points..

Warburg, after Thursday's ragged retreat on the surprise breakdown of its merger talks, edged ahead14p to 713p in busy trading. The theory prevails that Warburg, having displayed its willingness to sacrifice its independence, is likely to attract other large overseas securities houses.

Mercury Asset Management, the "poison pill" in the deal, gained 46p to 724p.

Cable and Wireless had an eventful session, with the shares, at one time traded at 353.5p, pricing the group at less than the market value of its 57.5 per cent holding in Hongkong Telecom. The shares closed at 361.5p, up 6.5p.

Portals, the specialist paper group, advanced another 14p to 920p as the market continued to anticipate the signalled bid from De La Rue, up 21p at 955p.

Next, the retailer, remained in the bid spotlight, up 7p to 246p as stories continued to circulate that The Limited, a US group, was interested.

Among pharmaceuticals Huntingdon International tumbled 23p to 20p as administrators moved into one of its subsidiaries, leaving an exceptional loss of almost £34m in last year's.figures.

Acatos & Hutcheson, the edible oils group, was unchanged at 264p as Archer Daniels Midland, the big US food group that has 7.3 per cent of Tate & Lyle, picked up another 400,000 shares, increasing its stake to 23.05 per cent.

BS, formerly Bristol Scotts, held at 183p. Scotts Holdings of Singapore has lifted its stake in the leisure group by 33,947 shares, which takes its holding to 29.999 per cent, just below the level that triggers a takeover bid.

Danka Business Systems, rumoured to be the potential bidder for Copymore, jumped 24p to 324p. Copymore, which disclosed on Thursday it had received an approach, edged ahead 10p to 180p.

Middlesex, the metals group, held at 8.5p as it attracted another Russian bank on to its share register. Vozrozhdeniye Bank has sold some of its shares to Mapo Bank.

The combined Russian holdings is 12.23 per cent. Middlesex has arranged joint-venture agreements with the banks to offer trade finance.

Wilshaw, the industrial distribution and metals group, rose 3p to 71p on institutional buying.

Countryside Properties, operating largely in south-east England, held at 108p. Smith New Court expect profits of £12m this year and £15m next. The shares are said to be more undervalued than at anytime over the past two years.

Rumblings of discontent at SEET, the loss-making textile group. Andrea Cattaneo della Volta, an Italian businessman who became chief executive in March, has acquired 5 per cent of the capital and is negotiating to increase his holding. Jock Mackenzie, chairman, has 25 per cent. Some shareholders are said to be dismayed by the group's failure to make acquisitions. The shares are 56p.

As Christmas shopping gathers pace worries about trading at Brown & Jackson, the Poundstretcher discount shops chain, sent the shares tumbling to a new year's low, off 0.25p to 1.5p. They touched 16.5p last year. The group was rescued by a £56.2m injection from the Pepkor group, South Africa's biggest retailer, in June. In the first half of this year the troubled group lost £12.7m.

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