Punters lift Wm Morrison as possible Asda acquisition

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The Independent Online
Archie Norman, the architect of Asda's dramatic revival, should be casting around for acquisitions. Many in the stock market believe the only way he can build on his success is to push through a significant takeover that would keep the supermarket group on a roll.

On Monday there were suggestions his target could be WH Smith, the troubled retailing group. But such an assault is now regarded as unrealistic and the market has turned its attention to another supermarket chain, Wm Morrison, the Bradford-based group. In brisk trading, for Morrison, the shares rose 8p to 164p. They have climbed 19p this week.

Under the Norman guidance Asda has climbed from 23p to 97p. Last month it announced profits had surged 35 per cent to pounds 246.2m and it had replaced Argyll as Britain's third-largest supermarket chain.

Although the basic business still has considerable growth potential, the market believes Mr Norman, former finance director of Kingfisher, needs the impact of an accommodating deal to keep up the momentum.

Morrison, often the subject of takeover rumours, seems the obvious target and it would not contain the sort of horrors that could lurk at WH Smith.

With takeover speculation continuing to be a big influence the market almost shrugged off the "no change" German interest rate decision.

A strong early advance was not held and the FT-SE 100 index ended 3.4 points down at 3,447.2 although second- and third-liners displayed more resilience.

The early progress reflected another New York peak and as the market closed the Dow Jones Average was setting new highs. The large gap between London and New York continues to baffle seasoned traders.

There is considerable surprise that the London market is not stretching to new peaks given the weight of takeover money and the improving economic outlook.

Smith New Court, the latest takeover candidate to admit to bid talks, gained 8p to 519p. Schroders, which has ruled itself out of the Smith auction, gained 42p to 1,280p. Popular guess is it is more interested in carrying off Cazenove as its stockbroking bride.

The expected bid action on the electricity pitch duly emerged with US group the Southern Co offering 900p a share for South Western Electricity, which appears to be seeking around pounds 10. Sweb gained 11p to 938p. Other electricities edged ahead.

GKN displayed a modest measure of disappointment, down 5p at 677p, with the Apache helicopter order. The contract is for 67 aircraft against hopes of 91. Alvis, in a supporting role, expects to get pounds 40m of turnover from the deal, and jumped 7p to 116p. Rolls-Royce, anticipating more than pounds 100m of business, held at 187p. Rival bidders GEC and British Aerospace gave ground, GEC 4p to 306.5p and BAe 1p to 627p.

BAT Industries, off 8p at 493p, was unsettled by the US Food and Drug Administration's new assault on tobacco with a ruling nicotine was a drug that should be regulated.

Carlton Communications dipped 28p to 995p with James Capel hanging out a sell sign; Pearson, up 10p to 609p, resisted rumoured sell advice from Robert Fleming.

But Fleming lifted BSkyB, the satellite television station, 10p to 319p.

Tomkins, up 7p at 247p, was helped by a slim Smith upgrade, from pounds 326m to pounds 335m. Royal Bank of Scotland eased 7.5p to 424.5p with price cuts by its Direct Line insurance off-shoot and a hovering line from UBS, causing some disquiet.

Robert McBride, the detergents group, started "official" market life after a spell on the grey market. The shares, sold at 188p, held at 205p.

Gestetner, the office equipment group, advanced 20.5p to 82p after Ricoh, the Japanese group with 28.8 per cent, said it planned an offer of at least 90p a share. Inchcape, with 15.1 per cent, is prepared to accept.

Sleepy Kids, the animation and merchandising group, jumped 9p to 63p.

It confirmed it had signed a deal with Fox, part of the Rupert Murdoch empire, to broadcast Budgie, The Little Helicopter, the creation of the Duchess of York. The agreement is worth $1.3m.

Chiltern Radio dipped 3p to 305p. It is still resisting the hostile GWR offer although GWR has 59 per cent of the capital.

Perpetual, the fund manager, rose 20p to 1,460p. Founder Martyn Arbib sold almost 1.4 million shares at 1,385p. He retains 57.2 per cent.

Wembley stuck at 2.5p. Once again it was one of the busiest traded shares with Seaq printing volume at 117 million.

Sunleigh, the golf trolleys group, was another busily traded, with nearly 46 million shares; the price held at 3p.

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