Market Report: Talk of action at Guinness revives investors' spirits

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The Independent Online
Guinness is, once again, intriguing the stock market. For a long while the shares drifted forlornly, weighed down by squeezed profits, the fierce competition in the spirits market and whether the group had the strength to push through much needed price increases.

Yet after edging perilously close to their 12-month low the shares have suddenly perked up; they climbed a further 5p to 473p, reawakening the suspicion corporate action could be near.

One suggestion is LVMH, the French group, wants to ditch its 20 per cent Guinness stake to allow chairman Bernard Arnault to concentrate on its traditional luxury baggage operations and develop a media empire.

To add to the ferment Guinness is thought to be itching to get its hands on all of Moet Hennessy, the Champagne and Cognac brandy house where it has a 34 per cent interest with LVMH owning the rest. There is also talk of a spirits deal with Allied Domecq.

Guinness and LVMH have endured an uneasy corporate relationship although there is no doubt that on trading grounds the association has reaped rich dividends.

It has been suggested that Guinness could not have infiltrated the French drink industry without the help of a softly-softly approach with LVMH.

Even now the prospect of a UK drinks giant taking a controlling interest in France's premiere luxury drinks group would produce a wave of outrage in the self centred French business community.

But there is little doubt the present relationship has served its original purpose. M Arnault is vexed about having so much cash, around pounds 1.8bn, sunk into Guinness shares and the UK group would like a more dominant role in what is a French drinks associate.

The French entrepreneur has already cut his Guinness stake from 24 per cent to 20 per cent. Placing the remainder, in one swoop, would represent a Herculean task; yet dribbling out the shares would devastate the Guinness share price.

Certainly stronger Guinness shares could help the French group persuade the market to swallow another barrel of stuff.

The rest of the market enjoyed its second trading advance in succession with the FT-SE 100 index reaching 3,725.6, a 14.6 points gain. After a long debilitating run Footsie has recovered 47.3 points in two sessions. Volume was again uninspiring, indicating that the market swings and roundabouts were enjoying little more than the occasional gentle touch.

Scottish & Newcastle's results inspired a few drink shares to move ahead but the pub/restaurant groups continued to fell the squeeze as the market fretted about expansion problems; JD Wetherspoon lost 29p to 976p.

The non-brewing but pub owning Heavitree Brewery switched to AIM with the ordinary shares up 50p at 275p.

Waters were unruffled by stories of more deals with suggestions Waste Management International wanted to sell its 19.7 per cent shareholding in Wessex Water leaving the shares 7.5p lower at 349.5p. Hyder lost 27p to 687p.

Betacom, seemingly destined to be Alan Sugar's next electronics vehicle, surged 14.5p to 29p. Others in the new Sugar equation did well, Amstrad gained 5p to 196p and Psion jumped 60p to 410p.

ADT, the Bermuda-registered security systems group, surged 395p to 1,550p on the bid from a US group, Republic Industries. Automated Security, in receipt of a share exchange offer from ADT, gained 8p to 45p.

Boots, due to meet analysts. edged ahead 5p to 584p and Tomkins, the conglomerate, was the best performing blue chip with a 6.5p gain to 249p following an investment presentation on its Gates acquisition.

The struggling United Biscuits crumbled another 2p to 212p, a new low, despite invitation to an analysts meeting on Thursday.

British Petroleum gushed 6p to 570.5p on a reported switch from Shell advice from Kleinwort Benson but Pearson eased 2p to 662p on a suggested Goldman Sachs downgrading.

Macallan Glenlivet, the malt whisky group, slumped 29p to 158p as Highland Distilleries rolled out a bid of 152.5p.

Kenmare Resources edged ahead to 35p on rumours of a corporate developments over its gold prospect in Mozambique.

Talk of a bid for MAID, the on line information group, lifted the shares 18p to 276p and Acorn Computer was unchanged at 253p. After the market closed Olivetti, the Italian giant, said it had cut its shareholding yet again.

TAKING STOCK

Independent British Healthcare, due to make its AIM debut today, starts its stock market life under the shadow of the first major take over bid in the healthcare sector. Goldsborough, on the receiving end of a hostile pounds 74m offer from the larger Westminster Heath Care, has 21 per cent of IBH. The former business expansion scheme company lost pounds 8.1m last year largely due to restructuring. In the first half of this year it produced profits of pounds lm and should approach pounds 2m for the year. The group, coming to market via an introduction, has more than 3,000 shareholders. The opening price is likely to be around 80p.

Dealings in London & Edinburgh, the publisher, are expected to start next week. The shares have been priced at 10p, valuing the company at pounds 4m.

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