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The Independent Online
Shares in Orange , the mobile phone company, rose 21 per cent after it said it would cut call charges by as much as 66 per cent next month and introduce a 50p-per-day phone service to stave off intensifying competition.

The company said it would offer free local or national off-peak calls whenever its competitors do so. This is to win market share ahead of a move by regulators to let customers switch networks without changing their phone number in January, called number portability, and ahead of the introduction of three to five further mobile operators in 2000.

Analysts said this was a way for the company to start eating into the fixed phone revenues of British Telecom.

Stagecoach Holdings fell 8 per cent after it said it would buy a 49 per cent stake in Richard Branson's Virgin Rail Group for pounds 138m, giving Scotland's biggest bus company a hand in Virgin's plan to regenerate the main London-Scotland train line. The cost will be funded by new shares and cash.

The purchase brings together two of Britain's most successful entrepreneurs in Mr Branson and Stagecoach's Brian Souter, who has built his company into one of Britain's 100 largest. The companies said they hoped to use joint ticketing and other measures to woo customers from cars on to Britain's West Coast main line.

Copyright: IOS & Bloomberg

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