National Grid flotation adds spice to Footsie shake-up

MARKET REPORT

The FT-SE 100 share index could be due for its biggest shake-up for years. The venerable committee that decrees the constitution of Footsie meets today to declare the winners and losers for the next three months.

Its task has been complicated by the flotation of National Grid, expected to go into the index in the next few days.

The Grid's arrival puts in jeopardy the continuing Footsie membership of London Electric and Midland Electric which have decided to spread their Grid holdings among their shareholders.

The committee has also to contend with woeful performances by some of Footsie's members; Arjo Wiggins Appleton is now 171p against a year's high of 290p; De La Rue 660p against 1,054p and Inchcape 236p against 430p.

So, on the surface, the committee has some tough decisions to make which could lead to National Grid arriving with as many as four other newcomers.

Besides fretting about Footsie the stock market had to contend with a surprise share sale - and the threat of others - by the Government.

It sold 101 million British Petroleum shares through SBC Warburg which picked them up at 508p and pushed them out to institutions at 513p.

The exercise knocked BP, leaving the shares at 517p, down from 531p.

Until the BP escapade became known shares were doing their best to move in the same direction as a record-breaking New York. Then came the BP disposal, fuelling stories the Government was unloading stakes in 30 other companies. Although such fears were unfounded, at least in the short term, it was enough to bring another heady run to a grinding halt and leave the index 5.5 lower at 3,664.2.

The current array of takeover candidates looked a little limp. Although above their lowest levels GRE finished 6p down at 277p; Legal & General 8p at 681p and Standard Chartered 10p at 604p.

Ladbroke, Monday's hot tip, contained to fall, by 1.5p to 157.5p while Bass, the perceived bidder, dipped 5p to 669p. Pub chain JD Wetherspoon edged ahead 2p to 639p as some suggested it could turn out to be the Bass target.

The bio-babes had another eventful session. British Biotech was suddenly stripped of its high-flying status, plunging 110p to 1,608p but BTG, the old British Technology Group, continued to romp ahead, gaining 82p to an 825p peak.

Profit warnings hit BTR, off 14p at 320p, and Allied Colloids, the chemical group, 2p to 125p.

Acorn Computer was the day's outstanding performer, jumping 44p to 192p on reports it had developed a receiver that allows surfing on the Internet, linking television with telephones. A deal with a leading US computer group is also thought to be likely.

Acorn's main claim has been its 43 per cent stake in Advance RISC Machines which has developed a new and powerful computer chip. Memory Corporation added 18p to 460p following a presentation.

Break-up talk continued to influence Lonrho, up 5p to 177p, and Mercury Asset Management improved 16p to 908p on talk National Westminster Bank, about to sell its US arm, would pounce. NatWest managed an 11p gain to 672p.

Megalomedia, the latest Saatchi vehicle, made an outstanding return to AIM. Suspended at 33p the shares closed at 83p. Celebrated Group made a subdued debut. The shares traded at 19p. The company raised pounds 2.25m by a placing at 18p. Celebrated has two hotels and five themed restaurants. Manx & Overseas, traded on the Ofex market at 31p, is due to arrive on AIM next week.

As the battle for Forte raged and some anticipated action at Ladbroke, the shares of Queens Moat Houses, the debt-laden group once a leading hotel force, gained 1p to 11.5p in busy trading. The shares have risen 2p this week on talk of a takeover strike with the reclusive Barclay brothers, who recently acquired London's Ritz for pounds 75m, regarded as the most likely predators.

Etam, the fashion chain, put on 18p to 196p on talk of a renewed South African bid. The Lewis family, through Oceana Investment, own 37.19 per cent.

Aviva Petroleum fell 13p to 42p as takeover talks were called off and Wensum, a clothing group, rose another 6p to 146p on bid speculation.

Devro International, the sausage skin maker, dipped 2.5p to 234.5p. After the market closed it announced US authorities had agreed to the takeover of Teepak subject to asset sales.

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