Market Report: UBS blows the fuses at electricity companies

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The Independent Online
UBS, the Swiss-owned securities house once known as Phillips & Drew, cast a dark shadow over electricity shares with a warning that a much more stringent pricing formula may be imposed by the industry regulator.

At one time they were down by up to 40p and although they struggled off their lows most ended with double-figure falls. The UBS gloom followed criticism from the big industrial users about the near- record prices being charged.

What should have been a soothing statement about pricing from National Grid, controlled by the regional electricity companies, failed to mend the fuses, with East Midlands down 24p at 594p and Midlands off 22p at 626p.

Norweb, also forced to accommodate unease over its move into telephones, was down 27p at 664p.

The English generators were dull, with National Power off 11p at 447p and PowerGen 12p at 507p.

Scottish Hydro-Electric introduced a climatic note into the proceedings; low rainfall in north- west Scotland had reduced profits, it said. The shares sank 6p to 376p.

Water shares joined in the utilities gloom; Thames, for example, fell 10p to 513p.

The rest of the stock market held up well, with the drag of the utilities making a significant contribution to a 2.5-point fall by the FT-SE 100 index to 3,129. At one time it was up 12.

A lacklustre government stocks market and little action in New York dulled enthusiasm and most of the action stemmed from special situations.

Oils returned to favour with a firm crude price, helped by transatlantic arbitrage, and an upbeat statement from British Petroleum improving sentiment. BP flared 14p to 371p and Shell 11p to 682p.

Blue Circle Industries fell 12p to 325p as the market fretted about new shares coming on offer following the conversion of pounds 90m convertible capital bonds.

Forte was another weak counter, down 8p at 239p. Hoare Govett said sell. Year's results are due next week and there are fears they will bear the scars of new accounting standards. Bass, rumoured to be bidding for Dutch brewer Grolsch, moved ahead 3p to 532p.

Wellcome lost 8p to 557p as word went round that the final results of the Concorde tests measuring the impact of the group's Retrovir Aids treatment will be available today. Fisons put on 7p to 139p on recovery and takeover hopes.

T&N, the motor components group, advanced 7p to 228.5p on talk of strong trading in Germany and an analysts' visit; BTR added 2p to 375p on suggstions of analyst meetings and Cookson, up 3p to 264p, also drew strength from expected investment meetings.

Pearson lost 13p to 618p, still reflecting a 1.8 million placing by a US investment house, thought to be Goldman Sachs.

Vendome, the luxury goods group split from Rothmans last year, continued to move ahead, up 5p to 459p. Its units will be eligible for FT-SE indices inclusion at the end of the year.

Stores achieved a smattering of gains. Argos, helped by SG Warburg buy advice, was firm at 343p.

Signet, the old Ratners, edged forward to 38p. Results are due next week. The sharp improvement at the Goldsmiths Group - profits of pounds 1.1m against pounds 27,000 - and the return to profits of Owen & Robinson, up 4p at 30p, have encouraged hopes Signet could move significantly into the black.

Supermarket shares were dull, weighed down by price war worries. But Wm. Morrison, where takeover hopes refuse to die, rose 3.5p to 127p.

Associated British Foods continued to benefit from the proposed sale of its Bakers Oven bakery and catering chain. The shares rose 10p to 593p. They have risen 34p since the deal was first mooted on Tuesday. Greggs, the signalled purchaser, rose 2p to 745p - its first move since the deal was rumoured.

British Airways registered satisfaction with last month's passenger figures, showing a rise of 11.6 per cent over the previous year. The shares climbed 7p to 422p.

Engineer James Wilkes at last collected a takeover bid from Suter, a mini-conglomerate, and rose 17p to 177p.

Acorn, the computer group, gained 3p to 68p. The company, controlled by Olivetti of Italy, is making a presentation, probably involving new products, next week.

Neotronics Technology, a maker of gas and water analysis equipment, dived 32p to 84p following a profit warning.

Mid-States, a US car parts distributor, moved forward 7p to 104p. An agency cross of 100,000 shares and expectations of strong results later this month helped the shares.

There is also the likelihood of a US share listing being announced with the figures.

Trafficmaster, supplying a computer screen warning of traffic jams, touched 190p, closing at 188p. The shares were floated last month at 130p.

Expect Gowrings, best known as a motor dealer, to display a growing appetite for hamburgers. It has four Burger King outlets, two under construction and is thought to be near to increasing its chain still further. Profits last year were pounds 251,000, most coming from its leisure side, against an pounds 82,000 loss. The dividend was held at 2p. The shares were unchanged at 75p.

There appears to be 'greenmail' at lawnmower maker Ransomes. A US group, Steinhardt Partners, has picked up a 30 per cent interest in the convertible preference shares which enjoy votes when dividends are in arrears. Yesterday Ransomes surprised by announcing payment of the preference dividend due last October. The prefs rose 10p to 76p; they were 60.5p on Tuesday.

The FT-SE 100 index moved from a 14.5-point loss to a 12 gain, ending 2.5 down at 3,129. The FT-SE 250 index fell 13.9 to 3,764.2. Turnover was 715.1 million shares from only 28,012 deals. The account ends today with settlement on 18 April.

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