Market Report: Wickes makes shame-faced return after suspension

MARKET REPORT

Wickes, the disgraced do-it-yourself retailer, made a shame-faced return to the stock market. Following a seven-month suspension, after profits had been overstated by pounds 51m, the shares touched 208.5p, closing at 196.5p against the equivalent of 417.5p. The nil-paid rights traded in line at 46.5p.

But for some half-hearted takeover rumours the shares may have performed even more dismally. With the company looking so vulnerable, even after its rescue rights issue, some speculators could not resist the temptation to gossip about the possibility of a strike.

Kingfisher, with the B&Q chain, was one name in the frame. Another was RMC, the building materials group which has long persevered with its 90- strong Great Mills operation.

There was, however, considerable scepticism about the likelihood of a bid. A determined bidder, it was argued, would have appeared before the shares were relisted. NatWest Securities suggested Wickes a sell above 200p.

The Wickes debacle involved profit over-statements spreading over three years. Since then the board has been reshaped and a Serious Fraud Office inquiry instituted.

Kingfisher fell 4.5p to 636.5p and RMC 22p to 976,5p.

The market suffered an acute attack of the jitters as talk of interest rate increases grew louder and New York failed to build on Monday's early strength. Tokyo's overnight slump was another disconcerting influence. It raised questions over the US bond market and weighed heavily on New York equities.

Footsie fell 27.7 points to 4,078.8 although supporting shares fared rather better with the FTSE 250 index up 4.1 to 4,521.5.

Oils stole the show, demonstrating once again the ill-wind adage. A report in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the soaring cost of energy futures following forecasts of colder US winter weather.

With crude prices moving higher oils needed no extra encouragement. British Petroleum flared 9.5p to 691.5p; Enterprise Oil 4p to 639p and Lasmo 6p to 232.5p. British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate, helped by further Gulf of Mexico expansion, jumped 50p to an 852.5p peak. Shell missed the fun, off 7p at 998p.

Properties also ducked the nervousness. With forecasts still flowing about this year's expected uplift in the commercial and residential property markets the likes of MEPC, up 22p at 472p, and Brixton Estate, 7p to 213p, made headway. Slough Estates, seen in some quarters as a likely target for MEPC, gained 9.5p to 291.5p.

Legal & General, after Monday's late excitement, settled 2.5p higher at 379p and National Westminster Bank continued to score from the round of analytical support, gaining 4.5p to 710.5p. Redland, the building materials group, slipped 14p to 345.5p, arousing fears it could be a Footsie casualty when the next call-over takes place in March.

Rolls-Royce fell 6p to 251p on Barclays de Zoete Wedd caution; Hillsdown gained 0.5p to 190.5p as its round of meetings produced positive comments from SBC Warburg but sell advice from UBS.

GB Railways remained on the express line, gaining a further 32p to 242.5p.

Football shares were ruffled by cautious comments. Manchester Utd fell 13.5p to 674p and Sunderland 27.5p to 717.5p. Celtic crashed pounds 100 to pounds 425 and West Bromwich Albion lost pounds 50 to pounds 200, a two-day fall of pounds 80. Chelsea Village fell 2.5p to 121.5p. It has raised pounds 885,000 by placing shares at 118p. On Ofex, Rangers pulled up another 65p to 715p.

Eidos, the computer games group, gained 62.5p to 832.5p on US buying and Azlan, following its rights issue flop, edged ahead 11p to 581p.

On the mining pitch Reunion, the gold miner, jumped 11.5p to 84p following positive reports on its Namibia exploration; Fortune Oil eased to 12p as its major shareholder, Vitol Energy, sold 15 million shares, cutting its stake to 13.36 per cent.

Union, the financial group where Joseph Lewis, the retiring Bahamas-based multi-millionaire is a significant shareholder, slumped 12.5p to 81p as the final dividend was dropped.

Abacus Recruitment, one of last year's top-performing shares, fell 4p to 87.5p after it announced a 75p placing to raise pounds 500,000.

Finelist, the motor parts group, advanced 15p to 239p following a disclosure Motor World, taken over last year, would make a bigger profits contribution than had been expected.

Tradepoint, running an order driven share trading facility, fell 10p to 93p.

Data Bank

FTSE 100 4078.8 -27.7

FTSE 250 4521.5 +4.1

FTSE 350 2031.2 -10.5

SEAQ VOLUME 756.6m shares, 39,425 bargains

Gilts Index 93.32 -0.01

Taking Stock

After three years of losses Pex, the sock maker rescued by Italian aristocrat Andrea Cattaneo Della Volta, is firmly in the black. Following interim profits of pounds 192,000 Hardman & Co, the researcher, forecast a full-year's out-turn of pounds 450,000 with pounds 723,000 likely this year. Last month Pex paid pounds 1.8m in cash and shares for Bridgedale, a maker of leisure socks. More deals are expected and the group is seeking to strengthen its management. The shares held at 6.75p.

Burndene, the caravan and hosiery group, mounted two share buy-backs in one day. All told, it collected 1,625,000 shares at 35.5p. It is unclear whether any buy-in stock came from a 1.4 million sale by Equitable Life on Friday. Burndene shares rose 1p to 36.5p.

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