Market Report: Standard Chartered lunch for analysts leaves a bitter aftertaste

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The Independent Online
The way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but not necessarily if the man in question is a stockbroker, as Standard Chartered discovered to its peril yesterday.

The bank invited several leading analysts to lunch yesterday, only to see its shares viciously marked down in afternoon trading. As it turned out, Standard's hospitality was not at fault. What had worried analysts was the company's post-prandial comments that it hoped the market would be prepared to provide capital for an acquisition. Fears of a rights issue sent the shares down 22p to 675p.

The cash-tills were ringing for other banks, though, with Royal Bank of Scotland 12p richer at 685p. The group reported pre-tax profit of pounds 768m for the year, up 19 per cent. A wave of upgrades are expected to follow the better-than-expected figures. Nat West was one of many brokers to make positive noises yesterday.

Lloyds TSB was another one in the money, adding 13p to 684p after a buy recommendation from Panmure Gordon. The broker believes Lloyds will make a large acquisition within the next six months. Standard Chartered has been mentioned as a possible target, though Panmure believes Lloyds is more likely to have an insurance company in its sights.

Barclays, up 6p to pounds 14.47, is also looking at the insurance sector, which might explain why, once again, marketmakers liked Commercial Union. It was the second-biggest Footsie climber, soaring 34p to 852p, although volume was light.

United Utilities far outshone the other blue chips, though, as dealers responded enthusiastically to the results of a strategic review by Derek Green, the new chief executive. United, up 52p to 777p, was buoyed by news of additional cost-cutting and a more cautious outlook on overseas expansion. The company shrugged off sell advice from ABN Amro Hoare Govett.

Vodafone Group was another star performer in the first division, dialling up a 13p rise to 394p. US investors are believed to be buying large chunks of shares following a week-long tour of New York and Boston institutions by Vodafone's management. There were also the perennial whispers that AT&T might launch a bid.

Yet again, Footsie had an uneventful day. Although it managed to break through the 4,900 barrier at several points, it closed just 2.2 points down at 4889. Wall Street was closed for Thanksgiving, so London had nowhere to turn for inspiration. Although volume was a respectable enough 685 million, the number of shares changing hands was inflated by the purchase of around 20 per cent of Redland's shares by Lafarge, which agreed a pounds 1.8bn bid for the building materials group on Tuesday night.

A pair of new issues graced the market. Tetra, the computer group, was placed at 160p and closed 11.5p up; Seascape Shipping, a ship-broking firm, started trading at 250p and finished up 5p.

Positive results and a buy note from ABN Amro Hoare Govett among others helped Johnson Matthey add 30.5p to 553p. Another broker suggested the precious metals group, which reported a 14 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 58.2m, was good value up to 650p. However, Nat West said it was "cautious" on the company.

Meanwhile, despite flat pre-exceptional profits, Wolverhampton edged up 6p to 457.5p. The pub group's share price has had a disastrous year, falling from 705p in the summer and underperforming the sector by around 30 per cent in recent months.

Metrotect Industries, a company specialising in the manufacture and supply of anti-corrosive coatings, rose 7.5p to 35p after good results.

Neepsend, the engineering company, managed to avoid a tumble despite issuing a profits warning. The group said it was in talks which could lead to a merger, and as a result it nudged up 8.5p to 39.5p.

Zeneca continued to gain following Wednesday's approval of the Zomig migraine drug. The drugs behemoth closed up 69p at pounds 18.96.

First Technology's two-for-one capitalisation issue begins trading today. The shares yesterday finished unchanged at 926.5p, almost 300p higher than a year ago.

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