Market Report: Telewest share sale beams ray of sunshine into a dull trading day

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The Independent Online
TELEWEST BEAMED a ray of excitement in a dull market yesterday amid talk that the French conglomerate Vivendi had sold part of its stake in the cable group.

The stock was one of the day's best blue-chips, rising 28p to 342.75p, but it was the volume figure of more than 12 million shares which suggested that something was afoot.

With the overall market's turnover ending at an anaemic 720 million, the Telewest's high volume sparked talk that something was afoot. Eagle- eyed dealers spotted that one trade of 10 million shares at 333p, possibly executed by Goldman Sachs, accounted for most of Telewest's volume.

They muttered that the chunky trade was a part-sale of the Vivendi holding. The French water-to-telecoms group received the shares as payment for its stake in General Cable, the TV operator recently acquired by Telewest.

However, the Gallic behemoth was never considered a long-term holder because of its more pressing media interests in Canal+ and BSkyB.

If yesterday's whispers are to be believed, the cunning French could have chosen the pre-Christmas lull to get rid of half of their holding at a good price. Another sale could follow soon. The identity of the buyer was a mystery but market sages said that it was likely to be a bunch of City institutions or even a rival such as the NTL-owned Cable & Wireless Communications, 11p higher to 834.5p.

Additional rumours suggested that a positive announcement on Telewest's takeover of TV programme-maker Flextech, unchanged at 1,160p, could arrive in the New Year.

Remaining blue-chips were dead quiet as Christmas shopping and pre-festive drinks dominated traders' minds. The FTSE 100 missed its 6,742.2 all-time high by a whisker, rising 21.1 to 6,728.6 as a wobbly Wall Street and lack of buying hampered progress.

However, the undercard had a field day, as the retail punters continued to pile in.The midcap rose 32.1 to 6,362.9 - another record - while the Small Cap soared 21.8 to a best-ever 3,041.9.

Few large moves were significant. Media stocks were well-bid, with Pearson, rising 95p to a record 1,910p on renewed hopes of a spin-off of its Internet operations and vague bid whispers. Carlton Communications rose 27p to 596p amid growing talk that a rival could bid for it rather than its target United News & Media, down 17p to 765p.

Software high-flier Sage celebrated being voted the best-performing stock of the 1990s with a 78p rise to a record 769.5p. One word of caution, the star of the 1980s was the disgraced Polly Peck. Sage also said that it could bid for smaller rival Pegasus, 51p higher to 485p after suggestions that shareholder Bob Morton could also trump an agreed bid from an Australian outfit.

The 1990s worst performer, the hotel and betting group Hilton, checked out a 5.75p fall to 194.25p. Some stores were in demand. Marks & Spencer firmed another 7p to 284.75p amid growing talk of a venture-capital backed bid. Supermarket chain Somerfield bagged a 7.75p rise to 94.5p on rumours that a sale of its underperforming stores, possibly to Scandinavian group Netto, is close. Rehashed talk of a strike from Archie Norman's Knutsford, unchanged at 232.5p, was also heard.

Tech and telecom stocks were propelled higher by another rip-roaring performance overnight on Nasdaq. Mooted bid target COLT Telecom rang up a 129p rise to 3,018p. Marconi, the old GEC, soared 79.5p to 1,048p on renewed talk of a large contract win. Palm-top computer maker Psion surged 288p to 2398p, while FTSE 100 newcomer CMG jumped 186p to 4685p. firmed 1.5p to 151.5p after confirming its tie-up with Internet provider LineOne. But wonderstock ARM Holding, another recent blue-chip, fell 73p to 3,939p on profit-taking. Telecom giant Vodafone AirTouch lost 1.75p to 296.75p despite talk of shareholder support for its Mannesmann bid.

The banks bounced back from recent weakness. Abbey National, up 8p to 968p, was boosted by renewed talk of a bid, possibly from Lloyds TSB, 7.5p higher to 743.5p.

Talk of tough trading and mild selling in low volume sent pest control giant Rentokil 13p lower to 216.75p and insurer Prudential 51p down to 1,106p. The stationery group WH Smith, down 10p to 470p, was also hit by vague talk of a profit warning.

A few bid rumours continued to excite the midcappers. Bombed-out utility Hyder gushed 18.25p higher to 280p on vague talk of a foreign strike, just like chemical group British Vita, up 13p to 236p. Bus group Arriva stalled at 230p despite on-going talk of a bid from National Express, 43p lower to 692p, or even Stagecoach, 4.25p up to 163.5p. The minnows had the usual dose of web mania. Internet investor soared 107.5p to 342.5p in good volume on hopes of new deal. Rival Underwriting & Subscriptions, up 1p to 51.5p, is tipped to be the next one to soar. AIM newcomer Internet Indirect, another web investor, rocketed39.5p higher to 44.5p. Baron, the provider of IT solutions to golf clubs and hotels, swung 35p higher to a record 415p after buying an Irish rival.

Support services group Semple Cochrane jumped 19p to 355p on whispers of a bid from a larger rival, possibly WS Atkins, flat at 750p. Metals group Kelsey Industries soared 450p to 1,350p after agreeing a pounds 14-per- share bid from German chemicals company Henkel.



GILTS INDEX:104.96 -0.72

THERE IS talk of an important announcement at Silver Shield. Shares in the owner of Swansea City Football rose 1p to 4.25p in large volume yesterday amid whispers of imminent web-related news. Punters believe that Neil McClure, chairman, wants to turn the company into a Net investor. After selling its windscreen business to Kwik-Fit, Silver - soon to be renamed The Ninth Floor - is a cash shell plus a football club and could be used to buy stakes in Internet companies.

THE ELECTRONICS part-maker Densitron yesterday said it did not know why its stock had risen 35p to a record 124p. Some dealers believe they can help solve the mystery. According to the market, Densitron, which makes parts for flat computer screens and mobile phones, is about to win a large contract with a big group. Moreover, there is talk that a well- known City figure has taken a stake in the company and could prepare a plan to boost the share price.