Market Report: Takeover hopes shed ray on yet another black day

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The Independent Online
INTEREST rate worries again demoralised shares. With the Prime Minister talking about the likelihood of a 7 per cent base rate, poor trade figures signalling another US increase and worries Germany will be forced to lift its rates, the stock market endured another dreadful session.

So deep was the depression that one stockbroker fretted about the return of the grim days of the 1970s when shares were allegedly rescued from a seemingly terminal decline by a Prudential Corporation-led buy programme.

The FT-SE 100 index plunged a further 41.8 points to 3.037.3. This month it has collapsed 214 points with 10 days of mainly savage falls overwhelming four modest gains.

Any hope equities would at last decouple from gilts were quickly lost. Shares were again under the spell of bonds and with world markets predictably weak government stocks shared the agony, down by more than one point at one time. But falls were halved when the new pounds 2bn stock was announced at 8.5 per cent, not the feared 9 per cent.

Amid the gloom, takeover hopefuls continued to shine. Although they closed below their day's best, Wellcome and Zeneca remained in demand. The theory that bidders lurked refused to be submerged and Wellcome ended 14p higher at 699p and Zeneca 8p at 841p.

Lucas Industries also bucked the trend, gaining 4p to 197p on bid hopes; Storehouse put on 4p to 206p, reflecting Kleinwort Benson support.

Television shares also played to their own script. The NatWest Securities raid on Scottish TV for Mirror Group Newspapers reawakened the sector as investors searched for the next target.

STV, with MGN sitting on nearly 15 per cent, closed 58p higher at 501p. MGN, up 11p at 139p, paid 520p a share, pounds 37.4m.

Grampian was an obvious beneficiary, up 29p to 354p; Ulster gained 37p to 720p and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees 29p to 392p. Border added 4p to 198p.

Attwoods, the US waste disposal group, is one to collect a full bid, from US group Browning-Ferris Industries. Laidlaw, the Canadian group, pledged its 29.8 per cent stake to the 109p offer. But Attwoods is resisting. The shares rose 8p to 117p.

Antofagasta, the Chilean mining, railway and banking group known in the market as 'Fags', edged ahead 3p to 323p. It is raising pounds 11.5m through a Barclays de Zoete Wedd placing at 308p a share to help acquire a further 45per cent interest in Compania Minera Los Pelambres, a copper mine. The deal will lift 'Fag's' stake to 65 per cent.

The signing of the Azerbaijan oil deal demonstrated, at least for Ramco Oil Services, that it was better to travel on a wave of rumours than to arrive. Ramco's heady progress came to an abrupt halt as the shares fell 28.5p to 244p. British Petroleum, a leading member of the consortium, lost 7p to 410p.

Middlesex Holdings, the metal trading group, moved to a 6p high for the year following another share buy by Vozrozhdeniye, a Moscow bank. It now has 4.7 per cent.

Hobsons, the food group, edged forward 0.5p to 23p following its pounds 10m sale of its packaging side to Yorkshire Food, unchanged at 108p.

Kingfisher managed to survive the gloom, gaining 3p to 482p as NatWest and Henderson Crosthwaite made positive comments. Roy Maconochie at Henderson says the shares are a trading buy after this year's massive underperformance and John Richards and Sean Eddie at NatWest say 'the period of confusion, disappointment and underperformance has now ended'.

Tomkinsons, the carpet maker, fell 25p to 215p after it warned year's profits would fall below the market's expectation of about pounds 1.1m. Retailers Carpetright and Courts suffered in sympathy.

Hawtal Whiting, the engineering consultant, reversed 32p to 266p. It is due to make an investment presentation at its Basildon, Essex, headquarters today. The company's dramatic return to profit has lifted the shares from 36p last year.

Newcomer Compel, a computer group, managed to cling to a modest premium, closing at 126p against the 125p placing price. African Gold started its life on the 4.2 market at 3p against the 11p suspension price when a takeover approach was made in December 1992.

Rossmont, a maker of ant-vandal washroom facilities, held at 13.5, the price at which Berjaya, an agressive Malaysian conglomerate, picked up a substantial majority stake.

Shares of British Gas could be 10 per ecnt undervalued, Barclays de Zoete Wedd says.