MARKET REPORT : Williams stages a late bid to return to Footsie ranks

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The Independent Online
Williams, booted unceremoniously out of Footsie in February, could be on the verge of a spectacular comeback. Rarely has the composition of the blue-chip index aroused such interest ahead of the steering committee's quarterly meeting.

Billiton, the mining group, Norwich Union, the insurer and Woolwich, the building society turned bank, are set for automatic Footsie inclusion with Tate & Lyle, Hanson and Imperial Tobacco destined for humiliating relegation.

Williams, once a conglomerate and now keen to establish its credentials as a focused fire protection and security group, is on the fringe and could, just could, force its way in to what is the stock market's most exclusive club.

The company lost its cherished membership when its share were depressed by the acquisition of the Chubb Security business and Centrica, demerged from British Gas, was big enough to claim an automatic place.

Since then Williams, unhappy about its Footsie rebuff, has struggled to reclaim its berth. Its success in persuading the powers-that-be to move it from the downmarket conglomerates sector to a rather more appreciated sub sector is giving the shares the boost they require.

They rose 6.5p to 365p, just a whisker from their year's high, giving the group a pounds 2.8bn valuation, enough it would appear to accord the sought after Footsie membership when the committee meets next week.

The rest of the market was given a powerful early boost from New York. At one time Footsie was up 75.1 points but with blue chips up 134.7 on Monday and Tuesday it was not altogether surprising that yesterday's early exuberance evaporated. The index closed at 4,976.9, up 24.7.

Worries the Far Eastern upheaval will hit merger hopefuls Grand Metropolitan and Guinness has hurt the two shares. GrandMet, up 11p at 586p, responded to suggestions the bearish talk had been overdone. Guinness, down 5.5p to 559p, is seen as the more severe casualty and profit forecasts have been downgraded.

Financials had a mixed session; HSBC managed another 28p gain to 2,034p on the more relaxed Pacific atmosphere; Abbey National caught the takeover bug with a 16p gain to 859p.

Property group Mepc shaded to 467.5p after it was confirmed merger talks had been going on with Burford. The negotiations, however, have been called off.

The market appreciates Mepc, the nation's third largest property group, is in need of a management infusion, hence its anxiety to link with Burford. But it would appear Burford's management demands were too much even for Mepc to swallow. Burford fell 4p to 117p.

Rank's holiday camp reorganisation failed to impress, with the shares falling 7p to 347p. Molins, the tobacco machinery group, was devastated by a profits warning, crashing 227.5p to 360p

Thistle Hotels, still coming to terms with Tuesday's poor figures, fell a further 8.5p to a 124p low and Regal Hotels, with interim figures in line with expectations, lost 3.5p to 43p.

Biotrace, the health care group held at 90p with interims below expectations and Psion, half-year figures today, fell 10p to 327.5p.

Stockbroker Brewin Dolphin firmed to 232p, a peak. There are stories the group, which came to market two years ago at around 150p and is restless to grow, is contemplating further expansion. One suggestion is BWD, the Leeds-based stockbroker, could be a target. BWD gained 2p to 123.5p, just below its peak.

Pittencrieff, the oil group, rose 6p to 62.5p as former Clyde Petroleum senior management took control. Acquisitions are expected. Clyde was taken over after a furious battle by Gulf Resources.

M&W, the convenience stores chain which has often been the subject of takeover rumours, rose 22.5p to 171.5p as it admitted it was in bid talks. Watson & Philip, rumoured to be the likely predator, softened 1p to 427.5p.

Tradepoint, the mini-stock market which had to seek rescue finance last month, rose 12p to 114p. With order-driven share trading due to start next month hopes are running high the little upstart, which has struggled for five years to rival the Stock Exchange, is at last in sight of mounting a realistic challenge.

As part of an pounds 11.4m rescue package, three leading executives resigned. The company is now 45 per cent owned by venture capitalists. As it battled to establish itself it failed to achieve trading targets and its David and Goliath struggle seemed doomed. Now the advent of order-driven trading offers it a chance to compete in more rewarding conditions.

Taking Stock

rCompagnie de Participations Financieres, the only continental group with an AIM presence, produced interim profits of pounds 830,000, against a pounds 44,000 loss. But full-year's figures are not expected to reach last year's pounds 692.000. The company, with property projects on the Continent and in the UK, is controlled by charitable trusts. It has a 5 per cent interest in Neill Clerk, the financial group, which in turn has 3 per cent of CPF. The shares, floated at 500p in December, 1995, were unchanged at 572.5p.

rAvocet Mining held at 154p. Shares of the gold and tungsten group are regarded as a speculative buy by T Hoare & Co, a stockbroker specialising in resource companies. Last year the shares touched 243p; they were placed at 240p.