Market Report: Tiphook rocked by talk of discounted rights issue

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The Independent Online
INTENSE rumours swirled yesterday about an imminent, deeply- discounted rights issue from the troubled Tiphook transport leasing group. Shares dropped from 34p to 26p at the height of the rumours and closed at 30p.

Despite a mass sell-off of assets, Tiphook remains heavily in debt and is expected to announce further losses for the second half of the year to April.

Tiphook lost pounds 180m in the first six months, an announcement that was coupled with a sweeping boardroom shake-up that saw Robert Montague step down as chairman, and four other directors leave the company.

Disposals have included the pounds 673m sale of the container leasing business - the second-biggest in the world. Last available figures showed Tiphook had net current liabilities of pounds 400m.

One observer, however, said yesterday's rumours had all the appearance of the bears coming out to play ahead of another set of poor results.

'Sure, Tiphook has problems and the balance sheet is a mess, but the company's banks have underwritten its attempts to trade out of the situation for the next four years,' he said.

Rights issue fears also continued to upset Commercial Union, off 5p to 545p. Talk was that CU may make a pounds 500m cash call today on the basis of one-for-four at 475p a share.

CU, however, was not one of the biggest fallers among the constituents of the FT-SE 100 share index, which retreated 9.9 points to 3,150.5 on a day when investors continued to hunt for bargains in second-line stocks.

The FT-SE 250 index rose 10.6 points to 3,700.2. Some 417 million shares were turned over in non-Footsie stocks out of a total volume of 671 million.

One of the biggest influences on the 100 index was BAT Industries, which fell 14p to 446p despite the company playing down the effects of a US Food and Drug Administration panel ruling that tobacco was addictive.

Volume trading in BAT was heavy at 6.7 million.

BAT said an act of Congress would be required to take the matter further. 'The FDA has no jurisdiction to act on tobacco,' a spokesman said.

The company sold about 50 billion cigarettes in the US last year, accounting for 10 per cent of its tobacco volume but 29 per cent of tobacco profits.

The 100 index was also knocked by Enterprise Oil, which lost 13p to 423p. More than 2.2 million were traded.

There was concern that the recent strength in the share price could see Elf Aquitaine place its 10 per cent, pounds 200m-plus stake in Enterprise.

Lasmo slipped 5p to 151p as fresh takeover rumours subsided.

Oil shares, generally, were softer as the price of crude eased about 22 cents to dollars 18.52 a barrel on firmer signs of a solution to the crisis in Nigeria.

The main union federation in Nigeria suspended a general strike ahead of talks late yesterday with the military government of General Sabi Abacha, union officials said. Selective strikes in the oil industry, however, were set to continue.

British Petroleum fell 6.5p to 404.5p, and Shell 5p to 735p. Both are Footsie constituents.

The index's main bright spot was provided by Zeneca, up 24p to 795p despite a surprising pounds 100m provision in its interim results for pulling out of the seeds business in the former Soviet Union.

Drug shares also continued to be buoyed by takeover speculation following this week's thumping dollars 8.5bn ( pounds 5.5bn) bid by American Home Products for American Cyanamid.

Wellcome added 9.5p to 685.5p, Fisons firmed 2p to 147p, and SmithKline Beecham, despite rumours that it was in asset- swap talks with Cyanamid before the bid, hardened 3p to 425p.

An old rumour resurfaced that Granada Group, just 0.5p lower at 537p, might be considering a bid for the unquoted, but soon to be floated, Gardner Merchant contract catering company. Gerry Robinson, chief executive of Granada, used to head Compass, the main rival to Gardner.

Elsewhere in leisure, Airtours dropped 10p to 449p as it cut prices further for next year's summer holidays.

Jefferson Smurfit hit another all-time high with a 9p gain to 405p on the back of its pounds 680m deal to buy La Cellulose du Pin, the paper and packaging operations of Saint Gobain.

Great Southern edged up another 1p to 709p in anticipation of a rival takeover bid from either one of two unnamed companies. SCI of the US has put a final 680p offer on the table.

Second-line stocks again held centre stage yesterday. Less than 40 per cent of the day's trading of 670 million shares was in the top 100 shares. The FT-SE 100 index lost 9.9 points to 3,150.5, while the FT-SE Mid gained 10.6 to 3,700.2.

Fun and games in Tullow Oil shares. Price rose 3.5p to a high of 47.5p, and 3.2 million were traded as press reports filtered through from Pakistan of a big gas discovery at Dharki. The reports were inaccurate, said Tullow. The purpose of the well at Dharki, it said, was to get a better geological understanding of the area. The denial, though, was not made until after hours.

Shares in Forte, the hotels group, could be in for a lively session. Analysts will digest updated trading news as they munch croissants at a breakfast meeting today. Shares eased 3p to 235.5p yesterday, although some analysts expect good news about occupancy levels and room rates. An announcement about the Savoy Hotel saga may also be on the cards.