market report & shares; Equities manage to banish the foreign exchange blues

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The feared crunch failed to materialise. Sterling, as expected, felt the impact of the no-change interest rate decision but shares ignored the currency turmoil, with the FT-SE 100 index closing 9.5 points higher at 3,261.2.

New York's holiday strength, with the Dow Jones Average hitting a new peak, helped banish the foreign exchange blues, which were not as deep as many had expected.

But the stock market remains jittery. Talk the currency crisis has merely been delayed is a nagging irritant that could become much more intense if the pound comes under more pressure. Trading was, however, thin, with many snatching an extra day's holiday. By the close turnover was a modest 467.7 million shares.

Smith New Court remained out of favour. At a time many financials are drawing strength from takeover speculation in the sector, Smith has slipped and slithered from almost 500p. The shares lost another 5p to 419p. Talk of a profit warning persists.

At the interim stage, profits fell from £30.3m to £20.2m. There have been hopes the securities group will achieve about £43m for the year.

The shares have significantly failed to respond to speculation about the destination of Rothschild's 20.1 per cent interest. Schroders has often been mentioned as a possible buyer.

Any such swoop by Schroders would, it is thought, be the prelude to a bid for full control.

SG Warburg remained the centre of attraction, with the shares slipping 5p to 837p. There was intense speculation Swiss Bank Corporation would disclose its bid terms today. But the feeling is growing SBC will not have the field to itself. National Westminster Bank is thought to be hovering, hoping to move in once SBC has shown the colour of its money. Overseas bidders are also thought to be in the frame.

An investment group of Warburg's stature, even if it is having an exceedingly difficult time, is clearly a considerable prize. If, as some suggest, its 75 per cent-owned fund management group, Mercury Asset Management, is kept under the Warburg umbrella, the package become even more attractive. MAM rose 14p to 901p, a year's high.

Body Shop International had another difficult session, falling 6p to 143p. The shares, hit by cautious trading comments, have been as high as 194p this year.

British Petroleum went to a new high, up 8.5p to 464p, on better-than- expected first quarter figures. But three-month results from Unilever left the shares off 24p at 1,212p.

Siebe, the engineer, added 15p to 590p on Barclays de Zoete Wedd support, but GKN gave up 5p to 632p ahead of an analysts' trip today to its Westland helicopter offshoot. The visitors are not, it would seem, expecting particularly bullish comments.

The Chirac victory in the French presidential elections gave the Euros a lift, with Eurotunnel up 9p at 207p and Euro Disney 20p to 213p. CarnaudMetal Box rose 62p to 2,325p. Another with French connections, the packaging and paper group Arjo Wiggins Appleton, enjoyed the extra support of a 22.9 per cent sales advance and the shares gained 7p to 277p.

Hays, the business support group, firmed to 310p. It announced new distribution contracts worth £103m.

The Telegraph gained 7p to 449p. Quarterly figures are due today; they are expected to be accompanied by terms of the Conrad Black bid for full control.

Ladbroke gained 2.5p to 186.5p as the rumour resurfaced it was trying to buy the US Hilton hotels operation. It already controls the international Hilton hotel spread. But any deal would represent a mammoth swallow for Ladbroke and require a heavy rights issue.

Royal Bank of Scotland encountered selling, down 9.5p to 412p. Interim figures are due today. With lower bad debt provisions making a significant contribution, the market expects a surge from £201m to £302m.

The failure of expected developments at VSEL left the shipbuilder's shares down 22p to 1,683p. British Aerospace fell 3p to 531p.

Tadpole Technology had an eventful session, falling 19p to 187p, on a gathering feeling bearish developments were imminent. Trading was brisk, with a run of small selling orders unsettling the market. The company said it knew of no reason for the activity and the stockbroker Albert E Sharp said it remained a strong buyer. Tadpole shares have had a volatile career; they hit 376p last year. Scattered buying lifted Magnum Power 8p to 181p.

Unipalm's remarkable progress continued. The shares rose a further 21pt to 205p. They have shot ahead from 120p in recent weeks. Last week the company said bullish comments from the stockbroker Henry Cooke Lumsden and the development of its Internet secure trading service were, as far as it knew, the only influences behind the strength of the shares.

Donelon Tyson, the civil engineer, gave up 1.75p to 4.25p as administrative receivers moved in at its Tysons Construction offshoot. The group is thought to have cut borrowings from a £19m peak to about £12m.

Frost, the independent garage chain, retreated 6p to 265p on speculation it planned an acquisition that could double its size.


o Forward Group was suspended at 268p, ahead of a £13.5m cash and shares take over. It is buying Exacta Circuits, a maker of printed circuit boards for the electronics industry. On sales of £44.1m last year it achieved profits of £3.4m. The investment group 3i has 23 per cent of Exacta and will emerge as a large institutional shareholder in Forward.

o NatWest Securities remain keen on Waste Management International, up 30p at 300p. But it says the shares will "probably only start to perform when the quarterly earnings per share comparisons are positive once more". WMI has two problem areas - France and Italy - which will not be sorted out until 1997. Profits this year are expected to be £175m with £200m next and £230m in the following year.

Prices are in sterling except where stated. The yield is last year's dividend, grossed up by 20 per cent, as a percentage of the share price. The price/earnings (P-E) ratio is the share price divided by last year's earnings per share, excluding exceptional items.


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