Market Report: Travis Perkins soars as takeover rumours build up

THE BUILDERS' merchant Travis Perkins looked as safe as houses yesterday as investors built stories of corporate action around it.

The stock soared 13p to an all-time high of 768p, valuing Travis at over pounds 800m as speculative buyers exchanged a few hefty lines of shares .

The dealing room's whispers suggest that the UK's leading purveyor of bricks and mortars could have attracted the interest of a rival.

Some keen punters talked of a tie-up with rival Meyer International, up 19p to 437.5p. However, sceptics pointed out that Travis' dominance of the UK market would make a merger with a domestic competitor difficult to justify on competition grounds.

A foreign rival would have less of a problem and dealers speculated wildly about predators from Europe and the US.

The fact is that Travis has seen some heavy dealing in the last couple of days and the suggestion that a potential bidder or partner is building a stake is hard to resist.

Any suitor will probably have to pay a chunky premium to to win over chairman Ernest Travis who owns some 10 per cent of the company.

An intriguing counter-rumour said that the company could try to fend off a bid through an acquisition similar to the recent pounds 182m purchase of rival Keyline from Irish construction giant CRH. As for Meyer, the feeling was that if a deal with Travis failed to materialise another predator could appear on the horizon.

The excitement surrounding the sector was completed by the expected 225p- per-share takeover of heating and plumbing minnow PTS, up 36p to 221p, from distributor BSS, 4p higher to 434p.

The rest of the market put in a resilient performance and closed firmer. The FTSE 100 ended 34.4 better at 6297.2, just off the day's high, in good volume. The Congressional testimony by US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan unsettled a few brokers but was not enough to wipe out London's gains.

The second liners were in good nick as bid stories continued to circulate. The midcap ended 13 higher at 5972, while the Small Cap nudged 3.2 better to 2723.1.

The heavyweight pharmaceuticals and media sectors did most of the running among blue-chips. Glaxo Wellcome soared 73p to 1,752p as some brokers, with the notable exception of Deutsche, forecast great things for its flu drug following Tuesday's approval by US regulators. Today's interims are keenly awaited to gauge whether Glaxo can meet its full-year double- digit earnings growth target.

SmithKline Beecham bounced back from an eight-month low and rose 34p to 774p, on reports of a small US deal and bargain-hunting. The jump in the two rivals inevitably sparked talk that their much-wished merger is back on.

AstraZeneca chipped in with a 49p rise to 2,381p amid creeping optimism on next week's results and vague talk of a sale of its agrochemicals division. Midcapper Medeva shot 6p higher to 119.5p on returning talk of a bid or management buyout.

Media groups were well bid. Granada beamed 22p higher to 637p on talk, dismissed by company sources, of a sale of its Grosvenor House hotel. A more likely whisper talked of a bid for rival ITV company Scottish Media Group, flat at 922p.

BSkyB climbed 14p to 580p after a court upheld its exclusive deal to broadcast Premiership football. The decision is bad news from Manchester United, which was eager to sell its own TV rights, and the stock pared an early 6 per cent rise to close only 2.5p higher at 214.5p.

Telewest Communications rallied 10p to 280.5p on hopes of a cable deal with NTL and Cable & Wireless Communications and a DKB push.

The Lemsip maker Reckitt & Colman put on another 37.5p to 822.5p on hopes that its merger with Dutch rival Benckiser may be trumped by Unilever, down 2.5p to 581p, or a financial buyer.

Advertising giant WPP firmed 15p to 556.5p after a small Polish acquisition. Broker WestLB Panmure believes that its exposure to the booming US market should push the stock to 600p.

Among the losers, British Steel returned to the blue-chip fray with a 7.25p loss to 168p amid reports that carmakers Renault and Nissan will source their steel from rival Usinor.

Abbey National fell 46p to 1137p after revealing a cut in its share of the mortgage market. Cadbury Schweppes fizzled 10p lower to 414.75p after a fall in interims profits, despite hinting to a confectionery acquisition or a cashback.

The mail order group GUS shed 24.5p to 686.5p on returning talk of poor trading. Next was the flip side of the retail coin. The clothes chain rose a smart 22.5p to 720p on whispers of booming sales. Deutsche Bank has just had a meeting with the chief executive and believes that the shares could go to 850p.

Bids, rumoured and real, propped up the second liners.

Supermarket chain Somerfield rebounded from recent weakness with a 7.5p rise to 215.5p on bargain-hunting and vague takeover talk.

Lloyds insurer Limit soared 12.5p to 141p after rejecting a bid approach. The mystery suitor could be a fellow Lloyds syndicate. Accident-prone leisure group Greenalls firmed 18p to 347.5p on strong whispers of a bid, possibly from Whitbread, down 11p to 889p.

Metal-basher Morgan Crucible closed 14p higher to 271.5p on rehashed talk of a US bid or MBO. No such luck for Jarvis. The rail engineer plummeted 10p to 271.5p on continued fears of a delay to the resolution of its dispute with client Railtrack. Anglian Water did even worse, leaking 33p to 715p on the fallout from the price review.

Electronics company Feedback led the minnows higher. The stock surged 12.5p to 65p on rumours of a big US deal for its Virtual Campus product.

The tiny investment bank Union firmed 5p to 32p on whispers of a bid from a rival, while publisher IMS rose 24p to a record 271.5p on hopes of a float of its teamtalk.co football website. Internet service provider Totalise debuted on the lightly regulated Ofex market with a 5p to 25p after offering free shares to subscribers. Property group Delancey jumped 4.5p to 114.5p on talk of an imminent deal with Milner Estates, flat at 358.5p, or even of a takeover.

SEAQ VOLUME: 1.15bn

SEAQ TRADES: 74,144

GILTS INDEX: 105.86 -0.03

IS DICOM planning an audacious listing in New York? The software minnow yesterday announced the pounds 4m purchase of a 18.8 per cent in a US private equity vehicle. The venture is set to buy Kofax, a Nasdaq-listed software company.

Insiders believe the deal could herald a float of Dicom on the main New York market. Dicom has already announced plans to float on Germany's Neuer Markt and could soon find itself with three listings.

ENTREPRENEUR BOB Morton is rumoured to be plotting a deal at AIM- listed Future Integrated Telephony.

The well-known City financier yesterday bought a stake of over 45 per cent in the troubled seller of cheap telephone rates through his Just Results company.

Given Mr Morton's reputation as a deal-maker, do not be surprised if FIT, up 2.5p to a year high of 72.5p, is taken over by a rival in the near future.

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