MARKET REPORT: Stand-alone Centrica's prospects push it to new high

Centrica, the old British Gas supply arm, flared to its highest since becoming a stand-alone company in January.

The shares jumped 5.75p to 86.5p in often busy trading as some in the stock market took the view it had a far brighter future than was generally believed.

SBC Warburg has for long suggested the shares were undervalued. And Panmure Gordon is believed to be on the verge of publishing a 55-page buy circular, suggesting the price should be around 125p.

Since the British Gas demerger Centrica has had a volatile time. Early takeover speculation drove the shares to 75p but then the market became convinced the company, with its North Sea take-and-pay disasters, was a demerger from hell and the shares hit 56.25p.

Centrica is showing a surprising ability to renegotiate its problem contracts and earlier this month achieved what is expected to be the first of a series of continental gas supply deals.

On the downside is the windfall tax which, at around pounds 200m, is perhaps more than Centrica had expected and indications of further regulatory difficulties.

BG, the old British Gas, fell 2p to 239.5p; it has recently been up to 251.5p.

The rest of the market had another indecisive session. After a see-saw display Footsie ended with an 11.6-point fall to 4,862.9 with higher interest rate fears and a subdued New York dampening enthusiasm.

Boots, recently stretching to new highs, fell 29p to 787p following a lacklustre trading statement and Imperial Chemical Industries lost 17p to 908p following figures every bit as dismal as the market had expected.

Mercury Asset Management, weak recently, gained 58p to 1,338p but other financials were neglected.

Although LVMH disclosed it was still selling Guinness to buy Grand Metropolitan the spirit and stout group managed a 7p gain to 598.5p; GrandMet rose 2p to 619p.

Zeneca had an eventful session as doubts were cast on its important Accolate asthma drug. But it was quick to respond, saying there was no causal relationship between Accolate and a rare flu-like condition which could be fatal. After falling 48p, the shares finished at 2,052.5p, off 10.5p.

Inspirations, following the 75p-a-share offer from Carlson Leisure, a US group, gained 10p to 71.5p. Insurance broker Willis Corroon added 2.5p to 132.5p after the acquisition of 33.36 per cent of a French broker, Gras Savoye & Cie.

Kingfisher, bidding for full control of BUT, a French electrical and furniture retailer, fell 15p to 701.5p.

Glynwed, the engineer which like so many industrial groups is suffering from sterling's strength, fell 5p to 197p, lowest since 1993; the shares were 370p last year.

Ted Baker, a fashion group, closed at 139.5p against a 135p placing.

Gremlin, a computer games operation, traded at 146.5p from a 159p placing. Aminex, with oil and gas interests in the former Soviet Union, fell 6p to 77.5p after confirming the extension of its operations in Tatarstan.

It is raising pounds 11.3m through a placing of 10 million shares on a one- for-ten basis at 75p.

The company believes its oil production will top 17,000 barrels a day by 2,001 before any input from Idellill, a company formed to exploit up to 15 oil fields in Tatarstan.

Aminex will have 35 per cent of the venture. Last year Aminex average production was 1,500 barrels a day.

Bakyrchik, the Russian gold miner once nudging 600p, fell 8.5p to 15p.

Bluebird, the toys group. edged forward 2.5p to 92.5p as Guinness Peat, the Sir Ron Brierley vehicle, lifted its interest to 8 per cent.

Britton, the packaging and paper group hardened 1p to 57.5p. There are hopes the once high-flyer is on the verge of signing what could be a lucrative US contract.

Ennex International, indulging in investment meetings, was little changed at 22.5p. The company, now focusing on zinc, is estimated by Dublin stockbroker Davy to have potential assets of 73p a share.

Ennex International has an established zinc project in Pakistan but it is a development in Kazakstan which is intriguing followers.

Owen & Robinson, the retailer, fell 1.25p to 7.25p, lowest for more than two months. It has taken over, for pounds 6.5m, Capolito Roma, a fashion retailer.

Michael Abrams, who started Capolita 14 years ago with pounds 5,000, has become chief executive of the enlarged chain which takes in the 50 strong Foothold shops, selling trendy footwear.

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