Orange for FT-SE 100

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The Independent Online
Orange, the mobile-telephone firm, is set to be catapulted into the FT-SE 100 index this week, marking one of the most meteoric success stories in UK business history.

On Wednesday, the committee that oversees the prestigious index of the UK's top 100 companies holds its latest quarterly meeting to elevate at least three hopefuls to its ranks.

After one of the most effective brand marketing campaigns of the Nineties, and a hugely successful flotation in February, Orange now boasts a market capitalisation of more than pounds 3bn. It will leap into 65th place on the FT-SE 100 when the new firms join later this month.

It appears, however, that there will be no such debut for recently privatised Railtrack, whose share price has been stuck ever since the first day of trading. While its market worth of pounds 2.08bn ranks it number 99 among UK firms, the index's rules of inclusion do not guarantee a place to such a marginal contender.

Instead, Orange is likely to be joined by United News and Media, created by the merger of Lord Hollick's MAI with United Newspapers.

Ironically, Securicor, the telecoms and security firm, is also a leading candidate; together with British Telecom, Securicor owns rival mobile operator Cellnet and would be the fifth mobile-phone owner - with Vodafone and Cable & Wireless, which runs Mercury One-to-One - to join the FT- SE 100.

Another place may go to either Lucas Industries, which has been buoyed up by bid speculation, or Next, the high-street clothes retailer - an achievement of a different ilk, marking its return from the doldrums after huge problems at the start of the Nineties.

Orange's FT-SE listing will be a triumph for Hans Snook, its 47-year- old managing director. He has piloted the Hutchinson Telecom/British Aerospace joint venture from the ashes of its disastrous Rabbit portable-telephone venture two years ago to a position where it sells one in every four new mobile-phone accounts. It is the youngest company (excluding privatisations) to make the top 100 since the index began.

The market is a cruel mistress, however. While the champagne corks are popping at Orange, the mood will be less festive for those heading in the opposite direction. The likely casualty list includes Foreign and Colonial, the UK's oldest investment trust, pubs group Greenalls, and oil and gas explorer Lasmo.

Also teetering on the brink are Courtaulds, the chemicals group, and Rexam, the paper and packaging company. If each share price loses between 3 and 5 per cent of its value before close of business on Tuesday, they will also drop. If they do, it will guarantee Next a place in the top 100 for the first time since the George Davies era of the late Eighties.