Market Report: Shares hit another peak

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The Independent Online
AFTER some hesitation Budget week ended on a confident note with shares once again hitting a closing peak.

But there was little sign of the exuberant trading that sent turnover above 1 billion shares on Wednesday and Thursday. Deal- making was more subdued, with investors seeking the shares left behind in the frantic Budget stampede.

Standard Chartered, the banking group, was a strong feature, gaining 43p to 1,153p. The shares have gained 76p in two days.

Like the rest of the banking sector, Standard has basked in the reflected approval of the Royal Bank of Scotland results, which offered firm evidence that the sector was waking from its bad-debt nightmare.

But takeover talk is never far from the group. In 1986 the bank was rescued from a hostile bid by Lloyds Bank when overseas investors, the so-called 'white squires', rushed to its support.

Lloyds remains with a 4.6 per cent stake. Of the rescue party only Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat, the Singaporean businessman, still has a significant shareholding.

The stock market has suspected for a long time that Lloyds has not abandoned its Standard ambitions. Lloyds shares were strong, up 9p at a 626p peak, and, with banking shares having emerged from the gloom that engulfed them for so long, it may be tempted to make another strike.

But the TSB banking group could also be in Lloyds' sights. It is suspected that its northern network could be an attraction. Lloyds, or any other bidder, could feel obliged to wait until TSB has disposed of its troublesome merchant bank, Hill Samuel. TSB advanced 9.5p to 237.5p.

Life insurances were ruffled by the Securities and Investments Board's pension investigation. Legal & General fell 7p to 532p and Prudential Corporation 9.5p to 360.5p. But the composites remained firm, still enjoying Budget relief.

BTR, the industrial conglomerate that this week paid dollars 415m for a US conveyor belt maker, lost 5p to 346p as analysts adjusted expectations following meetings.

James Capel, still a buyer of the shares, has held this year's profit forecast at pounds 1.2bn but cut pounds 45m from next year's to pounds 1.38bn. It has reduced its dividend expectations, lowering this year's forecast to 11.5p and next year's to 12.3p.

Hanson, which disappointed its followers on Thursday, remained weak as downgradings continued. The shares fell 3.5p to 265p.

Rank Organisation romped ahead, up 25p to 909p. Brian Newman of Henderson Crosthwaite has nominated the group as his share of 1994.

Last year he picked British Aerospace, which has been an outstanding performer, improving from about 140p to 409p yesterday, up 8p. The shares have touched 468p.

Two of the fallen stars of the drugs industry perked up. Fisons, which has conspicuously failed to join in the Budget party, rose 3p to 142p, inspired by news that The Capital Group, a US investment house that seeks recovery stocks, had lifted its stake from 4.09 per cent to 5.09 per cent. And Medeva, 236p before it was devastated by a profit warning, jumped 8.5p to 135p.

The mining giant RTZ dipped 20.5p to 722.5p as Hoare Govett offered 'top slice' guidance. MEPC, the property group, was unchanged at 523p as Smith New Court said sell.

Food retailers were a shade firmer. But an investment presentation by Argyll, the Safeway group, failed to impress, leaving the shares 4p lower at 255p.

Oils were mixed, with the continuing weakness of the crude price an unsettling influence. Much of the weakness was among second-line shares.

Vodafone celebrated its millionth cellular subscriber with a 12p gain to 557p.

YRM, a property agency, ended 2p down, after 5p, at 19p, following a warning that profits will be below expectations. The shares fell 8p on Thursday.

With impeccable Friday afternoon timing, Ward Holdings revealed poor results, leaving the shares 8p lower at 35p. Linread, the fasteners group that made a cautious statement late on Thursday, lost another 9p to 89p.

UK Safety, once TSW, held at 59p. Beeson Gregory regards the shares as undervalued, forecasting profits of pounds 2.6m for this year and pounds 3.3m for next. VHE, a reclamation group, on Greig Middleton support, gained 2p to 119p.

Bristol Scotts, the leisure group run for years by the Kerman family, held at 133p as the battle for control became even more intense. A decision on the disputed ownerships of a crucial block of shares is expected on Monday. Ian Stevens, a rebel shareholder who runs the group's pub operation, is pressing for the removal from the board of three members of the Kerman family. He and Sir Ian Rankin are seeking election.

Ovoca is the latest obscure Irish resources group to seek a fortune in the former Soviet Union. It said yesterday that negotiations were 'at an advanced stage' for acquiring resource assets there and any deal should not require a capital injection. Ovoca shares have been strong this week on the back of inspired buying. On Monday they were just 10p. Following the statement they rose 5.5p to 26.5p after topping 30p.