Only a bid can relieve the misery at United Biscuits

It's almost crunch time for United Biscuits. Tomorrow one of the stock market's most bewhiskered takeover candidates is due to announce its half year figures - and there is no doubt they will be awful.

NatWest Securities is looking for pounds 23m against pounds 80.1m. A dividend cut is widely expected. The shares fell 4p to 275p, their lowest for three years. Their main support now stems from hopes that UB will be taken out of its misery through a take over bid.

There is thought to be institutional pressure for management changes. Eric Nicoli, UB's chief executive, and his team have seen the group's profits slump from almost pounds 200m to little more than pounds 100m.

With such brands as McVitie and KP, United has been under intense pressure on the home market, and forced into rationalisation manoeuvres. But its US exposure has created the most humbling problems. It is now trying to sell its Keebler operation although all the indications point to an unrewarding offloading exercise.

But the US could provide salvation: the suspicion lingers that the likes of Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soups or PepsiCo could dispense with the peripheral Keeblers operation and aim direct for UB.

Two years ago Cadbury Schweppes almost bid for UB, driving the shares to a peak of 435p in the process. Since then Hanson and, probably more realistically, Tomkins, have been linked with the biscuits group.

UB has on numerous occasions acknowledged its vulnerability. Its executives are on three year rolling contracts and chairman Colin Short, who arrived earlier this year, is regarded as an experienced asset in any bid skirmish.

The rest of the stock market had another jaded session with the FT-SE 100 index giving up 13.4 points to 3,535.9, once again ignoring a firm New York display.

Caradon, the building materials group, remained weak, falling a further 8p to 195p as investigations got underway into Friday's hefty share sales. Over the weekend it became clear the group was about to issue a profit warning which duly appeared early on Monday. The shares were 228p at the start of trading on Friday.

Siebe, the engineering group, put on 16p to 701p. Next week Henderson Crosthwaite, the stockbroker, is due to host an evening investment presentation.

Reuters continued to fret about competition from Bloomberg, falling 18p to 561p.

Amersham International's ragged retreat cut a further 42p to 971p. Once again cautious comments from US securities houses Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch were cited for the weakness. Since the two investment groups took a dislike to Amersham last week the shares have fallen almost 100p.

ICI remained on the up, with US buying said to be a major influence. The shares rose 8.5p to 815.5p, just below their year's high. It is felt the chemical outlook has improved and ICI should score a striking profit advance this year.

Cray Electronics crashed a further 16.5p to 47p as a bleak statement merely underlined the depth of the group's difficulties. Bullough, the engineer, lost 31p to 134p following a profit warning, resulting from problems in France.

Insurance group Steel Burrill Jones fell 23p to 59p on the double whammy of a profit warning and the termination of bid talks. Results lowered Delta, the electrical equipment group, 27p to 444p.

Atkins, the clothing group, responded to the agreed bid from Coats Viyella with a 16p jump to 108p.

Danka Business Systems jumped 15p to 555p as the market sensed it could emerge as the bidder for Eurocopy, the office equipment group which has received approaches. The shares held at 98p.

Supermarkets were ruffled by the latest example of price competition - a series of price cuts by Somerfield, the unquoted group which operates Somerfield and Gateway supermarkets. Before the Isosceles leveraged buyout, the business was quoted as Dee Corporation. Asda fell 1.5p to 106p, J Sainsbury 4p to 471p and Tesco 6.5p to 329p.

Senior Engineering added 1.5p to 112.5p with at least one securities house pondering the possibility of a bid from the TI Group, up 3p at 430p. Lucas Industries gave up another 5.5p to 180.5p.

Biocompatibles International, the medical group, lost some recent exuberance, closing 15p lower at 335p. The shares were 166p two weeks ago. The surge has stemmed from US clearance for its Proclear contact lens and a pounds 3m investment by US giant Johnson & Johnson.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us