Market Report: Telecoms chatter keeps dealing room lines busy

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The Independent Online
TELECOM STOCKS kept dealers' lines busy as talk of imminent corporate action and a bullish note from a heavyweight broker sent investors rushing to the phone.

The fresher rumour was that a large US bank, believed to be Salomon Smith Barney, had published a research essay suggesting that mobile phone companies are looking cheap.

The broker was said to have highlighted Orange, 6.5p higher at an all- time high of 1,091.5p, as its preferred UK mobile stock.

According to Salomons, Orange - which also confirmed a deal with Marks & Spencer, 4.75p lower to 376.25p, to sell handsets in its stores - will benefit greatly from the new wireless data technology.

In plain English, this means that Orange and its rivals stand to make a fortune as soon as customers start using their phones to transmit data as well as words. Piping fax, messages and e-mails through a mobile is no futuristic dream - the technology is ready and analysts are predicting a boom in wireless data.

However, Salomons is thought to believe that some mobile phone stocks have not priced in this wireless explosion and look a bit of a bargain.

The other excitement was provided by confirmation of the much-leaked talks between Vodafone Airtouch and US rival Bell Atlantic. News that the two could decide on a joint-venture this week helped Vodafone to ring up a 60p rise to 1,253p. Broker Deutsche believe that a deal could spark a 200p gain for the UK group.

The good day for telecoms was completed by electronic group Racal, up 25.5p to 402.5p after confirming discussions to sell its telecoms arm to Energis, 36p higher at 1627p. There is talk that the disposal could trigger a break-up bid for Racal. National Grid, a 46 per cent shareholder in Energis, surged 13.25p to 422p on the news. A push by Deutsche also helped.

Handset maker Filtronic chipped in with a 47p rise to a best-ever 986p as Deutsche Bank slapped a 1,260p target on the stock.

Gas group Centrica joined the telecom party flaring 4.75p to 167.75p on revived rumours of a deal to provide low-paid phone lines, possibly with US group Primus.

Remaining blue chips were off the hook as uncertainty over the direction of interest rates continued to depress sentiment. The FTSE 100 fell 22 to 6,169 in volume of more than 1.1bn. The fall would have been larger had it not been for Vodafone, the market's second-largest stock, whose 5 per cent jump added some 18 points to the index.

Traders talked of a nervy market with many players unwilling to commit themselves ahead of a flurry of economic data later in the week. The undercard was also in the doldrums with the FTSE 250 ending 46.1 lower at 6,037.8 and even the fabulous Small Cap finished down 7.1 points at 2,853.5.

Blue Circle led the blue-chip pack lower. The cement group melted 30p to 410.25p after a poor set of interims.

Carlton, down 20p to 435.5p, and its OnDigital co-owner Granada, 14.5p lower at 561p, were in the bears' sights. A raft of departures from their digital TV venture has sparked talk that OnDigital is struggling to keep pace with the rival service operated by BSkyB, up 2p to 597p.

Beer groups were unwanted. South African Breweries, 16p lower at 478.5p, and Diageo, down 20.5p to 608p ahead of Thursday's results, were undone by talk of tough trading in Asia.

Investment bank Schroders plummeted 59p to 1,321p after refusing to confirm rumoured talks with US private investment group Beacon.

National Power spectacularly bucked the market trend. The electricity generator surged 29.75p to 464.25p as reports of a split between its UK and international operations sparked talk of a bid. The US groups AES, Enron and Reliance were all mentioned as possible predators.

Rival PowerGen buzzed 11p higher to 636p on "strong buy" advice from Warbug Dillon Read, accompanied by a 870p target and continued talk of a US buy.

British Energy fell 7p to 475p despite whispers of a positive note from Warburgs.

Securicor locked away a 5.5p rise to 591.5p on revived talk of an offer from Rentokil, down 2.5p to 245p, while engineer Invensys jumped 3.75p to 327p after reports that the part of its automotive division could be bought by Sweden's Trelleborg.

Many of Invensys' peers had no such luck. Old bid chestnut Morgan Crucible plunged 28.5p to 281p after bad interims. Morga''s spell dragged down Senior, 7p lower to 101p, and FKI, down 9.25p to 195p.

The supermarket chain Somerfield did even worse checking out a 26.5p plunge to a 12-month low of 189.5p after a disastrous profit warning.

Some of Somerfield's customers must have eaten out because Pizza Express cooked up a 74p rise to 820p after dishing out some tasty figures. Smaller rival Ask, results today, jumped 32.5p to a record 720p in sympathy.

Takeover talk returned to haunt old chestnut BICC, 2.5p higher at 116p.

Troubled holiday group Thomson Travel firmed 1.25p to 104.5p on talk of the departure of chairman Michael Brown and vague takeover talk. Rival First Choice rose 2p to 153.5p on strange rumours that the bid from Airtours, 7p lower at 410p, will be waived through by the European Commission.

Dana Petroleum was the star of the minnows. The oil tiddler drilled a 3.5p rise to 13.75p on gigantic turnover of more than 48 million shares on growing talk of a gas find in Holland and of a large buy in the North Sea.

Its Irish rival Bula Resources, unchanged at 1p, could follow suit. Deals in Lybia are expected and could be accompanied by corporate changes.

Aim-listed Baron Corp fell 1p to 141p despite announcing a deal with IT group Club Systems to sell its golf-course booking system.

Skyepharma surged 2.5p to 60p on confirmation of the predicted deal with SmithKline Beecham, up 4p to 768p.

Pool clubs operator Waterfall potted an 8p rise to 45.5p after unveiling a bid approach. Allied Leisure, flat at 29.5p, was a mooted predator.




REFLEC, maker of reflective ink, is putting together a series of shining performances. The stock touched a 12-month peak of 5.12p after a 0.3p rise yesterday on talk of several big deals.

Some traders believe the trendy designer Katharine Hamnett, recently signed up by Marks & Spencer, is keen to use Reflec's inks for the next collection. There is also speculation of a large contract with a European clothes maker and some action in the Far East.

THE OFEX-traded tiddler Cardington is believed to have won a five- year contract to organise events for the Public Record Office. The marketing group, flat at 30.5p yesterday, will set up touring exhibitions of the PRO's treasures, which include the Magna Carta and Shakespeare's will.

The rumours suggest Cardington will not receive an upfront payment for the contract but will get a big chunk - possibly up to 50 per cent - of revenues.