Market Report: Storehouse goes on shopping lists

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The Independent Online
STOREHOUSE is defying the gloom. As stock market confidence was again sapped by fears of higher interest rates, shares of the BhS and Mothercare retailing group were on institutional shopping lists, gaining 4p to 221p.

They have risen from 197p earlier this month, when the chief executive, Keith Edelman, produced further evidence that the group's reshaping was producing rewards.

Sales in the first half-year were up 7 per cent, helped by an expensive advertising promotion.

Interim profits are due next month and the market is looking for about pounds 23.5m against pounds 11.6m. Expectations for the year have been stretched to pounds 90m. Last year's figure was pounds 62.4m.

The Storehouse revival is, however, unlikely to impress long-standing shareholders. Nine years ago, the shares topped 400p on hopes of a US bid and the arrival of a bizarre and easily dismissed offer from Benlox, a tiny engineering group.

WH Smith was another retailer bucking the trend, up 4p to 459p. A City lunch, thought to be at the stockbroker Williams de Broe, was behind the advance.

The rest of the market was in ragged retreat from the opening. The FT-SE 100 index was for much of the session below 3,000 points but managed to close above its worst, down 28.2 at 3,000.9.

Government stocks, ahead of today's pounds 2.5bn auction, offered little inspiration. Falls extended to pounds 1 among longer maturities.

The Confederation of British Industry survey offered little comfort, as many observers concentrated on the increase in industry costs, ignoring export optimism. With New York ragged and the US dollar uncertain, the market searched vainly for support.

US rates are expected to be lifted soon, perhaps by as much as a point. Many believe the US authorities should have taken action already. There is likely to be widespread relief when they do eventually stir, possibly removing the nagging uncertainty that is causing much of the current distress.

A programme trade, thought to be by the US house Goldman Sachs, helped lift volume to 569.7 million shares.

Electricities remained in demand on hopes that others would follow the East Midlands example and make special dividend payments.

But regional brewers were flat, reflecting the flop of the Lazard Brewers Investment Trust. The trust had intended to buy a parcel of shares from Whitbread, remnants of the old Whitbread 'umbrella', for pounds 27m.

HP Bulmer, one of the shares involved, fell 18p to 398p. Among others in the parcel, Hardys & Hanson of Nottingham lost 4p to 260p, and Joseph Holt, the Manchester group, 50p to 3,600p.

Airtours failed to hold an early gain, closing 7p down at 432p. Hoare Govett has lifted its profit forecasts from pounds 86m to pounds 89m and from pounds 97m to pounds 105m.

Northern Foods and Unigate remained under the whip of the new milk marketing set-up, which is seen as reducing the appeal of door-to- door deliveries.

Unigate fell 10p to 326p, Northern 2p to 198p.

Cadbury Schweppes softened 10p to 425p on fears that any assault for Dr Pepper/ Seven-Up would force a rights issue.

BTR shaded 1.5p to 301p. It seemed a large line of stock, about 4 million, took some absorbing.

The low level of corporate and market activity continued to weigh heavily on investment groups. SG Warburg retreated 17p to 614p and ShareLink 8p to 206p.

Virtuality's link with Atari, the largest US computer games maker, lifted the shares 7p to 172p; Proteous gained 30p to 248p as hopes grew about the potential of its animal vacine.

Tomorrows Leisure, the troubled group, held at 14p as it confirmed suggestions it was involved in talks about an acquisition from the Wiggins property group. A cash call at 10p is also signalled.

Aminex, the first junior resources group to reap rewards from the break-up of the Soviet Union, should be heading for profits of Ir pounds 2.5m this year. The half-year figure was Ir pounds 517,000 after payment of a dollars 4.5-a-barrel export tax, since dropped by the Russian government. The group's second Russian project is under 'detailed review'. The shares are 65p.

International Communication & Data should swing dramatically back into the black on Monday. There are hopes that the chairman, David Cicurel, who beat off an attempt to snatch control earlier this year, will report profits of around pounds 900,000 compared with the exceptional charges-influenced loss of pounds 4.9m last time. The shares are 9.5p.