Punters go talent-spotting after giant drinks alliance

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
With the mammoth Grand Metropolitan/Guinness drinks alliance reasserting the magical appeal of corporate activity, the stock market spent a happy session striving to find the next blue chip player in the takeover game.

A rush of talent-spotting and another pulsating display in New York display sent Footsie stretching to another high, up 38.7 points to 4,669.6.

GrandMet and Guinness were in unabashed celebratory mood, helped by the proposed 60p-a-share cash distribution. Guinness led the ferment with an 86p gain to 602.5p, best for five years; GrandMet soared to an all- time high of 591p.

EMI, Pearson and Cadbury Schweppes were the Footsie constituents singled out for speculative attention. They were perceived as candidates for large groups seeking to reinforce their global presence.

The showbiz group is seen as ideal for Seagram, the giant Canadian drinks group that seems to have surrendered its thirst for wine and spirit growth to accommodate its media aspirations.

The shares, despite a downbeat review from Salomon Brothers, the US investment house, spun 68p higher to 1,289.5p.

The security group's highly rated analysts, Ivor Jones, Richard Dale and David Forster, regard the shares as no more than a hold, suggesting a price between 1,250p and 1,300p on trading considerations. They do not think an EMI bid likely but "the possibility of a bid should not be ignored".

Pearson, the banking to media group, has long been seen as a possible bid target. A host of would-be predators have been put forward, ranging from assorted US corporations to the Granada leisure group. The shares responded with a 33p gain to 749.5p.

Cadbury Schweppes, up 23p to 552p. is another that has often encountered takeover speculation. The soft drinks and sweets group, which is finding the going tough in the bitterly contested US drinks market, is felt to be vulnerable to the attentions of Nestle or Unilever.

Allied Domecq, due to produce another round of flat figures today, was also drawn into the spirits distillation.

Seagram and Allied will be the only significant spirit groups outside the Grandmet/Guinness combine.

So Allied's take-out appeal could be strengthened and there are also hopes that the merged group will be more inclined to hold prices, rather than give way to price-cutting. On the other hand GMG Brands has only to flex its muscles to make life even more difficult for such a sad underperformer.

The market was inclined to give Allied the benefit of the doubt, lifting the shares from a depressed 428.5p to 446.5p.

Footsie had spent most of the morning session in a subdued mood. It picked up at lunchtime, ending at the day's high. The rest of the market, however, missed the party. The FTSE 250 index could manage only a 0.2 gain to 4,526.4 with few investors able to muster much enthusiasm.

Financials had a period in the shadows. Even so, some kept up their remorseless progress with Abbey National and National Westminster Bank among those moving ahead. But Alliance & Leicester stumbled, falling 12.5p to 613.5p.

Sun Life & Provincial put on 18.5p to 321.5p on the premise the insurance group had, to some extent, been overlooked in the recent upsurge.

The Savoy Hotel attracted attention on stories a deal was near with Granada, which inherited a majority but not controlling stake when it took over Forte last year.

Suggestions the Wontner family, which has a large shareholding in the high-powered 'B' shares, may be prepared to resolve the present stalemate lifted the widely held, but low-voting, 'A' shares 35p to 1,460p. The rarely traded 'B' shares held at pounds 34.

Amstrad, the electronic company founded by Alan Sugar, jumped 32p to 253.5p after its court success against Seagate Technology of California. The group could soon have more than pounds 230m in cash and the market hopes Mr. Sugar, who once attempted to take the business private, will pay a special dividend.

Sunderland suffered the predictable result from relegation, falling 39p to 445p. In March the shares were 760p.

Argos, the catalogue stores chain, lost 24.5p to 623p on its latest profit gloom but Ladbroke jumped 12p to 254p on an upbeat trading statement and hopes of Hilton Hotel Corporation share-buying.

Canadian Pizza rose 10.5p to 100p on takeover talk but Gieves, the tailors, held at 47.5p as a bidder appeared.

Taking Stock

The Hillsdown food and furniture group has severed its link with Rugby Estates.

It is thought to have sold its remaining near-14 per cent interest, leaving the property group's shares up 4p at 160p. Rugby was once Hillsdown's property arm; it was floated three years ago. The property group also paid pounds 8.4m adding to its Covent Garden estate.

More discomfort for Bula Resources, the oil and gas explorer. The shares dipped 0.25p to 2p after its disclosed there had been an over-optimistic report on a well on its Salymskoya field in Russia. The well will "not now be brought into production". The company, however, seems hopeful of corporate activity. Several parties have shown interest in the struggling operation and there is talk new investors may move in.

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