Poise returning to electricity sector

MARKET REPORT The FT-SE 100 index jumped 25.2 points to 3,199.9 and the FT-SE 250 index 15.8 to 3,505.1. Turnover was 772.7 million shares with 25,344 bargains. Government stocks showed modest gains.
Electricity shares are slowly overcoming worries about regulator Professor Stephen Littlechild's current review, prompted by the controversial Trafalgar House bid for Northern Electric.

Although still a long way from the heady levels achieved when takeover euphoria swept through the industry they have made steady progress, scoring gains of more than 50p in the past two weeks.

The suspicion Professor Littlechild's hastily launched review has merely delayed, not destroyed, takeover action has prompted the new switch-on.

London Electric demonstrated the market's willingness to go along with bid gossip. The shares were at one time up 25p as stories swirled that Total, the French oil group, was preparing to pounce.

The electricity group said it knew nothing about it and when Total denied it was stalking LE the shares settled at 655p, still up 11p.

The French group admitted it was developing in the UK but said it had "no plans to take a stake in this company".

The successful rebellion, led by US arbitrageur Wyser-Pratte, to force a reluctant Northern Electric into calling a special shareholders' meeting which could lead to a 950p a share offer, also helped sentiment. Northern shares rose 33p to 810p.

The complaining shareholders want Northern to put Trafalgar House's revised and lower offer of 950p to shareholders. Trafalgar, up 4p to 56p, cut its terms as a result of the Littlechild intervention.

Yorkshire Electric, regarded as one of the most vulnerable shares in the sector, rose 12p to 691p. The shares touched 599p in the aftermath of the new Littlechild review.

Some observers think electricities may have recovered too quickly, ignoring looming difficulties. Besides the June review, they point to next month's local elections and likely Tony Blair comments at a conference, "Regulating in the public interest".

The rest of the stock market was in fine form with the FT-SE 100 index up 25.2 points (after 30.9) to 3,199.9. The recovery was exaggerated by the expiry of the April Footsie option contracts. But another record- breaking New York performance, weak retail sales reducing pressure for higher interest rates and more settled currency markets helped inspire the market.

BAT Industries was the best-performing blue chip, up 13p to 456p. Once the take over bid by Compagnie Financiere Richemont for Rothmans International goes through BATs will be the sole constituent of the FT-SE tobacco sub- sector and represent the only direct investment in the industry.

The market speculated that the tobacco segment will be scrapped and BATs moved into the conglomerate sector, where resides the other main tobacco player, Hanson, or switched into insurances.

Rothmans edged ahead 2p to 608p in busy trading with some speculators snatching their profits. The Richemont offer is 625p. Belated hopes Vendome, the luxury goods group controlled by Richemont, will get the Rothmans treatment lifted the shares 19p to 497p.

Lloyds Chemists continued to recover from the 184p low hit after a restructuring was felt necessary. The shares edged ahead 3p to 218p with some suggesting Kingfisher, another hard-pressed group, could be interested in bidding.

The oil gusher took British Petroleum up 8p to 451p; Shell 7p to 729p and Enterprise Oil 11p to 410p. Even Lasmo joined in, up 4.5p to 168p.

The new breed of coal miners remained in demand. Coal Investments put on 12p to 118p; RJB Mining 7p to 431p and Waverley Mining 6p to 130p.

Intercare, the health group, improved 5.5p to 69.5p on the possibility of a management buy out; Anagen put on 12p to 57p following further US test progress for its AuraFlex blood-testing system.

Rolls-Royce added 3.5p to 170.5p on the 82.6 per cent take-up of its placing and Alvis, the defence vehicle group, made further headway, up 2.5p to 92.5p.

General Cable continued to drift lower, off 2p at 184p. United Breweries, a pubs chain, returned at 1.25p against a 1p placing level. Trading was printed at almost 70 million shares. They were suspended ahead of a restructuring at 6,75p.

Guinness frothed 4.5p higher to 468p on Barclays de Zoete Wedd support; Scottish & Newcastle ignored Kleinwort Benson sell advice, improving 6p to 543p. Caverdale, an acquisitive car dealer, held at 13p.