Market Report: Speculator's interest gives properties a lift

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The Independent Online
THE international speculator George Soros entranced properties and provided much appreciated support for banking shares yesterday.

The Soros descent on John Ritblat's property empire pushed his British Land shares up 46p to 344p.

The involvement in the reviving property market of the man reputed to have made more than dollars 1bn by banking on the UK's exit from the exchange rate mechanism last year sent shares romping ahead, with the property index jumping 135.7 points to 2,036.7.

Property shares have outperformed the rest of the stock market this year. In the past few weeks they have scored dramatic gains as the feeling has grown that the worst of the long-running, devastating property recession is over.

Even a succession of rights issues has failed to dampen enthusiasm. And British Land added to the cash demands on the sector by accompanying its Soros involvement with a pounds 132m rights call.

Today MEPC is due to announce interim results. It is regarded as a prime rights candidate. Whether it will feel able to proceed after the British Land exercise so comprehensively stole its thunder remains to be seen. Its shares gained 26p to 448p.

The market has clearly grown receptive to the cash demands of the property sector.

Brixton Estates, Land Securities and Slough Estates have already successfully tapped shareholders and the feeling abounds that institutions are happy to back established property groups, allowing them to take advantage of the bargains thrown up by recession-hit industry.

Every leading property share drew strength from the Soros involvement, which was perhaps surprisingly well signalled. In the past, as befits an international operator, his moves have been cloaked in secrecy. Indeed, most deals by his Quantum Fund have been little known, low-key affairs.

Among property shares pushed higher were Brixton, up 20p at 218p, Derwent Valley, 15p at 483p, Great Portland, 22p at 205p, Land Secs, 30p at 583p, and Slough, 22p at 222p.

P&O, the shipping to property group, improved 13p to 608p. Carr Kitcat & Aitken upgraded its profits estimate from pounds 265m to pounds 278m.

The estate agent Conrad Ritblat Sinclair Goldsmith, headed by Mr Ritblat, rose 8p to 42p on the hope that it will enjoy some spin-off from the Soros deal with British Land.

The Soros excitement even spread to builders, with Taylor Woodrow up 8p to 112p and George Wimpey 4p better at 176p.

The banks, deeply exposed to property follies, made headway. Barclays, with a bigger property exposure than the rest, was up 11p at 467p. Lloyds and National Westminster also advanced.

The property excitement was one of the influences behind a 13.8-point gain to 2,863 by the FT-SE 100 index, which at one time was 19.5 higher. The FT-SE 250 index romped ahead 25.1 points to a new peak of 3,191.4.

Hopes of lower interest rates continue to underpin shares. Many are convinced that the new Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, will be forced to lower rates as a counter to what is seen as an inevitable increase in income tax.

BT's latest excursion into the US left the shares 5p down at 421.5p, with some apprehensive about the impact of the MCI deal on the pending BT3 flotation.

Cable and Wireless and Vodafone Group improved on suggestions that the US giant AT&T will try to counter BT's latest US invasion by moving in on a British group. It already has close links with C&W.

A pounds 73m cash call left Blenheim, the exhibitions group, 29p lower at 413p.

Zeneca had a much more subdued session. In quiet trading the shares rose 4p to 634p, with the nil- paid rights up 3p to 37p. But Imperial Chemical Industries continued to demonstrate where the market's allegiance lies. The shares, still reflecting the view that the rump is the prime cut of any spin-off, jumped 42.5p to 673.5p.

Drug shares fell sharply towards the close as New York fretted about possible Clinton healthcare curbs. Worries are growing that the oft- postponed Hillary Clinton pronouncements will damage drug margins, with overseas groups suffering more than their domestic rivals. Glaxo Holdings fell 14p to 604p and Wellcome 22p to 754p.

Newcomer Inveresk, the packaging group placed at 150p, made a firm debut, closing at 172p.

Airtours, the package holidays group, which failed earlier this year to win control of Owners Abroad, recovered an early fall to close little changed at 294.5p as rumours resurfaced that it planned to buy the Hogg Robinson travel shops business. Hogg rose 4p to 186p.

British Aerospace continued to benefit from its business jets sale, gaining 12p to 367p. But Rolls- Royce, facing the prospect of overseas investors being forced to dump their shares, slipped 1.5p to 142.5p.

Goal Petroleum rose 4p to 58p as NatWest Securities made bullish noises. Last year Goal paid pounds 1.6m for a 60 per cent interest in a North Sea block. NatWest believes the stake is now worth pounds 10.6m. Goal's asset value is estimated at 90p.

Grand Metropolitan improved another 6p to 411p, with UBS joining Henderson Crosthwaite in recommending the shares.

The FT-SE 100 index closed 13.8 points higher at 2,863. At one time it was up 19.5. The FT-SE 250 index reached a 3,191.4 peak, up 25.1. Turnover was 601.9 million shares with 29,217 bargains logged. The account ends tomorrow with settlement on 14 June. Gilts were firm.

David Cicurel, the French merchant banker who revamped IMC Industries, has started to reshape International Communications and Data, up 0.5p to 8p. He has arranged the sale of a 75.1 per cent shareholding in its database group to management and plans to slash pounds 400,000 from overheads. Last year ICD lost pounds 491,000. IMC, the main Circurel vehicle, has an option on 12.2 per cent of ICD.

The French Heriard Dubreull family continues to build up at Highland Distilleries Co. As part of the complex links Highland forged with the Remy Cointreau drinks group, the HD family agreed to buy 10 per cent of the Famous Grouse group through the market. Yesterday the French family picked up 1 million shares, lifting the stake to 8.18 per cent. Highland held at 291p.

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