Pilkington may crash out of FTSE as prices splinter; MARKET REPORT

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The Independent Online
Pilkington, the glass group, cracked as the stock market fretted about the possibility of splintering glass prices and the group's likely removal from Footsie next month.

The shares fell 3.5p to 148.5p in often brisk trading. The group is, therefore, valued at around pounds 1.5bn. Unless there is a powerful rally it would appear its fate is sealed - an ignominious ousting when the Footsie committee meets next month. Mercury Asset Management, one of the candidates for membership, is, for example, enjoying a capitalisation of pounds 2.2bn.

Pilks is seen as a major casualty of the poor German economic outlook, underlined this week by Redland, the building materials group with an extensive German exposure.

It is known to be feeling pricing pressure; it must also be suffering from the rampant sterling.

In the first half of its year profits fell pounds 22m to pounds 82m, regarded as a reasonable performance considering the tough trading conditions.

But there is little doubt trading has deteriorated even further in the second six months and there are worries the group will not be able to match some of the more subdued year's forecasts such as the pounds 164m from stockbroker Albert E Sharp.

The rest of the stock market was a little more positive, with Footsie managing to end 7.8 points higher (after 17.6) at 4,058. Second liners, which are at last showing signs of escaping from their lethargy, were also firm, with the FTSE 250 index closing with an 11.8 gain at 4,428.5.

The astonishing tug-of-war over Storehouse continued with NatWest Securities hanging a buy sign over the shares, flatly contradicting the Barclays de Zoete Wedd sell advise. But the shares failed to draw any comfort from NatWest, falling a further 3.5p to 261.5p.

Other stores were firm, largely on Christmas prospects. Kingfisher added 16.5p to 649p. Great Universal Stores, figures next week, was helped by ABN Amro Hoare Govett support, gaining 18.5p to 686p; House of Fraser remained in the takeover frame, up 4p at 160p.

United News & Media's swoop on HTV created a slight frisson of excitement among broadcasting shares. In a pounds 37m deal, United picked up 8.75 million HTV shares, lifting its shareholding to 29.9 per cent. It paid 420p; HTV rose 22p to 373.5p and United 11p to 676.5p.

Schroders, the merchant bank, was drawn into the takeover melee, outpacing other blue chips with a 55p advance to 1,530p. The non- voters rose 25p to 1,265p. Credit Lyonnais Laing buy advice also helped the shares.

The Abbey National/Prudential Corporation link-up story refuses to go away. Abbey rose 11p to 696.5p and the Pru 7.5p to 487.5p. The two have made no secret of their desire to expand and the market has come to the conclusion they would make a perfect fit.

Abbey has also drawn some strength from its financial services venture with Safeway, the supermarket chain. Safeway added 1.5p to 389p.

Drug shares had an uncertain session with SmithKline Beecham giving up some of its speculative gain, off 11.5p to 819p. Cantab Pharmaceuticals jumped 40p to 630p after an encouraging research update.

RTZ, the mining giant rose above 1,000p for the first time since June. The shares, continuing to draw encouragement from the copper market, put on 15p to 1,001p.

Whitbread added 11p to 766.5p as NatWest said buy. Commenting on the pounds 46m takeover of the BrightReasons Italian restaurant chain, analyst Mark Finnie said: "Whitbread is effectively removing the most aggressive discounter in the pizza market."

Two newcomers met contrasting responses. Dawn Till Dust, a chain of convenience and cut-price drink stores, moved to 121.5p from a 115p placing. But Kern River, floated from engineer Villiers, struggled to top its placing, ending just 0.5p higher at 50.5p. The company is a vehicle for Villiers remaining oil interests.

ViewInn fell 20p to 190p, a far cry from the 625p hit in the summer. The shares, floated at 100p at the turn of the year, have blown the chance of being the best performers of 1996. The company supplies keypads to hotels which allow guests to access computerised data by a telephone line, including the Internet, and display it on a television screen. But progress has been slow.

The share issue was handled by stockbroker Shaw & Co, which eschewed the usual fee arrangement. Instead the Shaw team settled for payment in shares. It was locked in until this month.

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