MARKET REPORT: Talk of break-up leaves mark on C&W

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The possibility that the Cable and Wireless telecommunications giant could be contemplating a break-up is intriguing the stock market.

The decision to cut back its British operatons, including the withdrawal from payphones and the axing of 2,500 jobs, has raised questions about the group's strategy.

The C&W debate has been strenghtened by Friday's strange performance, which left the shares, at least for a few minutes, displaying the sort of top-heavy value investors dream about.

The group's controlling shareholding in Hongkong Telecom was suddenly worth more than the stock market valuation of the C&W group. Such a discrepancy could not last for long. And quickly the C&W shares rallied to produce at least some residual value for the rest of the business.

But the Friday experience has left its mark. And with many freely talking about a C&W break-up the possibility that a demerger will ultimately prove to be the salvation of the group is now factored into the share price..

In often busy trading the shares rose 7p to 368.5p.

The rest of the market was in fine form, even if best levels were not held. The FT-SE 100 index gained 20.8 points to 3,034.4, although trading was thin.

Still any Christmas rally, it was acknowledged, would be achieved on far from ebullient trading, with many securities houses at this time of year merely content to adopt positions that limit their exposure.

It would be foolish to pretend that the anxieties that have tormented the market in recent months have disappeared. Worries about higher interest rates and political stability are never far from the surface.

But the festive season could be said to have a special appeal for the market. Shares, possibly due to the skeleton staffing at many investment houses (with, of course, the big hitters away), have shown a remarkable tendency to advance, producing some unexpectedly encouraging year-end Footsie readings.

There are signs that what could be regarded as a share pantomime is about to be repeated.

With Trafalgar House proving that takeover bids, even if leaked, are not necessarily dead the shares of its reluctant target, Northern Electric, jumped 33p to 1,018p. Seeboard, seen by many as the next electricity victim, rose 5p to 477p but East Midlands was the star of the show, up 41p to 851p.

MFI, the flatpack furniture group, held at 120p. Rowan Morgan at Nikko Securities thinks the shares may outperform the market although he has cut his year's forecast by £4m to £96m.

Kingfisher, the Woolworth group, was strong, up 15p at 429p. Hopes of a seasonal sales upsurge helped but the main influence was the feeling it was time for a bounce after the recent weak performance.

Financials had another unimpressive day following the SG Warburg merger breakdown. Warburg ended 28p lower at 685p.

Takeover action on the oil pitch left Premier Consolidated Oilfields 1.5p higher at 23p. It is likely to bid for Pict Petroleum, which is 48.3 per cent owned by Amerada Hess, the US group. Pict gained 14p to 155p.

Wills, a meters and pumps distributor, rose 2.75p to 17.75p.There is speculation about a bid. SEET, the loss-making textile group, put on 5p to 61p on the realisation that it could be set for a more exciting future with the chief executive, Andrea Cattaneo della Volta, seeking to buy more shares.

MICE, the exhibition group, ended at 3.25p, against a 3p placing price.

Christie International, the auctioneer, rose 5p to 163p, reflecting the stake build up by Joseph Lewis and a 10 per cent sales increase for the autumn/Christmas season.

Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertilsing group, greeted the boardroom upheavals and the talk of rival operations being set up with a 3p fall to 151p.

Vickers, reflecting its Rolls-Royce engines agreement with BMW, edged forward 2p to 179p.

The FT-SE 100 index climbed 20.8 points to 3,034.4 with the supporting FT-SE 250 index up 22.9 to 3,460. Turnover was only 550 million shares with 22,136 bargains recorded. Government stocks had a cautious session, ending little changed.

London Clubs, the casino group, rose 13p to 289p ahead of today's expected approval by the Greek government of what seems destined to be a big new money-spinning casino in Athens. Two consortiums are bidding, with London Clubs prominent in what some think is the most likely winner. The shares jumped after the fund manager PDFM said it had sold 2 million shares.

More than £100m has been raised by companies on the backwater 4.2 market this year. The Manchester stockbroker Henry Cooke Lumsden broke the £100m barrier with two issues, Memory Corporation and Toad. The Stock Exchange hopes to use the 4.2 market as thefoundation for its Alternative Investment Market, which is scheduled to replace the USM.

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