Market Report: Third-liner Dragon steals limelight on a quiet day

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The Independent Online
IT LOOKED a busy day. Share volume, the trading screens said, reached 853.3 million, one of the best levels this year and a surprisingly strong performance on a sultry August day with many of the important decision-makers away on holiday.

But it was, in fact, a quiet, rather boring session. A single trade in an obscure third-liner, Dragon Oil, accounted for approaching a third of the total turnover.

And the Dragon roar (or whimper) hardly represented a rich flame of business. The deals were clinched at 1.5p compared with a 1.75p market price.

The suggestion from the company, which stressed it had received no notification of stakes changing hands, was that one investment house was juggling its holding among its funds. Others were more sceptical. The way the trades were handled, they suggested, indicated a big shareholder had sold.

Dragon's biggest shareholder is Morgan Grenfell, with about 11 per cent. Half-a-dozen others have substantial interests.

In some quarters there was talk that most of the shares had been shipped overseas, possibly to the US.

Dragon, a Dublin-based group with a market capitalisation of pounds 25.8m, has nearly 1.5 billion shares in issue.

It used to be called Oliver Resources. A year ago it took over a Norwegian group, Kirkland, and decided to seek its fortune in the Far East, where it has a web of interests. Shareholders, however, have yet to see much reward; the shares were 3.5p when the deal was put together.

The rest of the market drifted contentedly with the two leading indices moving forward. Utilities created much of the activity.

Electricities continued to power ahead, still reflecting relief over last week's regulatory directive. The regional groups are seen as, in effect, creations to generate cash with a wonderful opportunity to lift dividends and profits.

There is also the suspicion that takeover action could break out, with electricity groups rushing into defensive mergers as some of the more ambitious industrial operations, attracted by the cash flow, mount takeover bids.

The obvious candidates such as BTR and Hanson are said to be casting a corporate eye over the sector. Tomkins, still digesting Ranks Hovis McDougall, is another in the frame.

Since Professor Stephen Littlechild, the regulator, produced the new price limits gains of more than 100p have been scored. The latest round stretched to above 30p with South West up 26p to 767p.

Waters, which have tended to flow rather more slowly, showed signs of wanting to catch up. Thames surged 19.5p to 536.5p and Severn Trent 17p at 593p.

Newspapers improved on stories that Rupert Murdoch's Times and Sun will increase their cover prices next week. Mirror Group Newspapers gained 5p to 143p and United Newspapers 8p to 543p.

Television returned to the takeover limelight after months in the bid shadows. Ulster jumped 14p to 619p; Scottish 8p to 429p and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees 7p to 351p.

Food retailers improved on reports of higher sales and Smith New Court profit upgrades. The investment house increased its estimate for Argyll Group from pounds 375m to pounds 390m (lifting the shares 6p to 288p). It also upgraded Tesco from pounds 550m to pounds 570m but the shares were unimpressed at 247p.

Unigate fell 6p to 377p with Hoare Govett said to be negative.

Guinness continued to intrigue with rumours that the US investor Warren Buffet had tired of his holding and LVMH was preparing the ground to sell 4 per cent.

Mr Buffet added to the ferment by increasing his interest in Coca-Cola. Guinness put on another 5p to 478p.

Body Shop International ended 6p lower at 236p as a US ethical fund decided the retailer was not green enough and urged its clients to sell.

Hunterprint's profit warning cut the shares 7p to 9p but Hozelock, maker of garden equipment, reported that the summery weather had increased demand and profits would be above the pounds 6m expected. The shares, floated in November at 205p, rose 12p to 285p.

Waterglade, which escaped a shareholders' rebellion on a technicality on Thursday, is paying pounds 480,000 (and taking on pounds 600,000 of debts) for office and shop properties in west London. It is paying in shares with a possible cash element.

Lloyds Chemists, firm recently, dipped 6p to 304p in busy trading. Lazard Freres, the US investment group which sold its 6.5 per cent stake in Spring Ram Corporation in April, is thought to have unloaded most of its 7.19 per cent shareholding. The shares were sold at 293p. Lloyds reports year's profits in October; about pounds 56m against pounds 49.7m is expected.

Just, floated by the stockbroker Keith Bayley Rogers on the 4.2 twilight share market in March, hovers around 4p. A character licensing group, it appears to be making progress but is likely to announce an interim loss of about pounds 50,000 next month, which would compare with a pounds 52,000 profit. For the year the group,started six years ago, is in line for profits of pounds 100,000.

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