Market Report: S&N soothes profit fears as beerage suffers

SCOTTISH & NEWCASTLE, the nation's biggest brewer, has dismissed stories that it plans to roll out a profits warning. It is thought to have held meetings with analysts indicating that it is comfortable with profit forecasts of between pounds 400m and pounds 410m. Last year it produced pounds 422m.

The shares, bumping along at a 12-month low at 635.5p, strengthened a little to 647p.

Although Scottish soothed profit fears, it is thought in the past few weeks to have tried to persuade analysts to cut some of the more heady forecasts. BT Alex.Brown, the investment house, last month reduced its estimate by pounds 20m to pounds 402m. Stockbroker Sutherlands last week moved to a bottom-of-the-range forecast of pounds 392m.

The beerage has suffered from the downturn in consumer spending, but until recently Scottish appeared to have escaped the full impact of the ravages inflicted on its rivals. It also has two special problems - the loss of its exclusive supply agreement with the Inntrepreneur pubs chain and a downturn at its Center Parcs holidays operation.

Scottish, which became Britain's largest brewer when it acquired Courage, was riding at 945p last year.

The stock market was at one time down 95.6 points, anticipating weakness in New York following Friday's shock profits warning from Compaq, the US computer giant. But in a rollercoaster session, Wall Street was looking decidedly firm as London closed. Footsie ended 31.6 points down at 6,441.2; supporting shares also gave ground.

Dixons led the Footsie leader board, surging by 114p to a 1,654p peak on the possibility that it will float its Freeserve Internet service provider, which Schroders has estimated is worth more than 1,000p a share.

Amvescap, the investment group, firmed 18.5p to 632.5p after Merrill Lynch suggested that the shares should be 700p, but BP Amoco shaded 6p to 1,038.5p as WestLB Panmure advised profit taking.

Takeover action sent Kwik-Fit, the tyres and exhausts group, racing ahead 119.5p to 541p and Laporte, the chemical group, 172p to 762.5p. Kwik-Fit has agreed a 560p bid from Ford; Laporte said it was in talks, with the market banking on Swiss group Clariat as the predator.

Diageo, the spirits giant, duly confirmed it was in talks to sell its Spanish brewing operation, Cruzcampo, and Game, the computer games group, firmed 5p to 126p as Electronics Boutique, 2.75p off at 81.5p, produced a cash-and-shares offer.

Reckitt & Colman, down from 1,300p to 662p, is seen as the next major group likely to attract corporate attention. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch group, has already looked at the household products group but an American offer is looking more likely.

St James, the life assurer, rose 9p to 258.5p; there is speculation that Prudential may sell its 28.2 per cent stake following its acquisition of the M&G unit trust group.

United Carriers, reported to be in talks with Nightfreight, firmed 2.5p to 30p. Marks & Spencer clothing supplier Dewhirst was also in the takeover frame, up 5.5p to 86.5p.

Medeva, the accident-prone drugs group, fell 12.5p to 108.5p as the American Food & Drug Administration demanded more information about its hepatitis B vaccine. AstraZeneca has still to find a winning formula following the Anglo-Swedish merger, with the shares again under the weather, falling 13p to 2,765p.

Woolwich encountered a 23 million trade at 388p; the shares fell 13.5p to 386.75p. Tesco, figures today, was also heavily traded, gaining 2.25p to 159.5p. Lex Service, the car group, gained 38.5p to 460p on Warburg Dillon Read support.

Financial and telecoms shares, firm last week, gave ground although Lloyds TSB, reported to be looking for US acquisitions, added 25p at 1,020.5p. Some computer shares logged off after the Compaq warning; Misys fell 16p to 552.5p and Computacenter 31p to 536.5p. Arm gave up 100p to 2,830p.

Pilat Technologies was the day's top performer, surging 238 per cent to 35.5p following the first sales of its integrated broadcast management system.

Aukett Associates, the architect, rose 3.25p to 13.5p after forecasting half-term profits of pounds 600,000; this prompted Williams de Broe to suggest pounds 1.25m for the year, while the company produced pounds 623,000 last year.

London Clubs International fell 5.5p to 140p following Friday's late profits warning.

Many football shares stayed offside after Friday's block on BSkyB's bid for Manchester United. With BT Alex.Brown downgrading, Man Utd shares fell 1.5p to 185.5p but Newcastle United's FA Cup semi-final victory helped overcome the investment house's caution and the price rose 6p to 81.5p. Defeated Tottenham Hotspur lost 5p at 69.5p.

The narrowly traded Sotheby's "A" shares jumped 287.5p to 2,000p. Two months ago they touched 2,387.5p; in November they were down to 965p.

Premier Asset Management celebrated its move from Aim to full listing, and some director buying, with a 2.25p gain to 17.25p.

SEAQ VOLUME: 871.1 million


GILTS INDEX: 114.44 -0.25

HOPES ARE running high that encouraging developments are taking place at little Cambridge Mineral Resources. Its Irish diamond prospect is arousing interest, and some expect a statement from the company in the next week or so.

The shares have been heavily traded lately, and yesterday they rose 0.75p to 6.75p; they have been as high 18.25p.

CMR has changed its chairman, with Australian John Park replacing Dr Robert Young.

MORE INTERNET excitement. Easdaq, the European version of Nasdaq, witnessed rare activity when Xoom, a US group, surfed from an opening price of $66 to a $76.6 close.

The business, started only 18 months ago, claims to have pioneered direct e-commerce on the Internet; it attracts visitors to its web site by offering a range of free services.

Its site is said to be the 12th most popular on the World Wide Web.

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