Railtrack steams ahead on hopes of secret riches

MARKET REPORT

Railtrack was on the express line as the stock market sensed it could have a tantalising tale to tell at an investment presentation next week. The shares led blue chips with a 16.5p gain to 391.5p, a two-day advance of 34p.

The City has for some time been beguiled by what are regarded as Railtrack's secret riches - largely its property potential.

Some analysts have already come to the conclusion the group could comfortably accommodate a Labour windfall tax. They appear to be relaxed about even a pounds 1bn charge, although a much lower imposition is thought to be more likely.

There is a widespread feeling that Railtrack shares remain undervalued and one stockbroker is thought to be talking about them reaching 475p. The shares were privatised in May when private investors paid a 190p first instalment and institutions 200p.

The rest of the market was overwhelmed by New York. Friday's strong late run led to a confident morning session but when Wall Street traded hesitantly in the afternoon Footsie looked increasingly harassed and by the close was limping along with a 0.1-point fall. Still, before the US blues took their toll, it did manage a new trading high of 4,330.

The American connection was also less than kind to LucasVarity and EMI. The aerospace and car components group retreated 5.5p to 197.5p as the market continued to ponder how it intends to reconcile the payment demands of its US and UK investors.

EMI, 25p off at 1,101p was ruffled by indications of poor US sales; nine-month results are due later this month.

Financials remained in demand. SBC Warburg helped sentiment by producing intriguing targets for three leading fund managers. It suggested Mercury Asset Management, its former offshoot, should hit 1.500p; the price rose 26.5p to 1,382.5p.

The investment house also put a 1,550p target on M&G (up 3.5p at 1,380p) and 350p on Invesco (7.5p higher at 314.5p.).

Fund managers have romped ahead as the market has awaited a Continental strike. Dresdner of Germany and ABN Amro of Holland are two groups thought to be seeking a fund management capture. And just to add to the excitement Merrill Lynch, the US group, is now said to have joined the chase.

Insurances were again the subject of bid speculation with General Accident, up 26p to 872p and Prudential Corporation moving 9.5p higher to 581.5p.

Abbey National, expected to raise the stakes in the battle for Scottish Amicable, was little changed at 780.5p. Lloyds TSB, kicking off the banking profits season on Friday, put on 6.5p to 493p.

British Gas was unchanged at 243.5p as the grey market opened in its two constituents in their when-issued form. BG, the transportation side, traded at 173p (after 186.5p) and Centrica, the gas supplier, at 69.75p (after 72.5p).

Oils were subdued. Enterprise Oil fell 2p to 672.5p with Merrill Lynch moving its stance to sell. Lower crude prices also hit sentiment; British Petroleum fell 15.5p to 721p.

Football shares were rattled by suggestions from accountants Coopers & Lybrand they were overpriced by as much as pounds 1bn. In the past year the value of football clubs has increased 400 per cent. The accountants believe only a handful can justify current valuations.

So Southern Leisure (Southampton), Sheffield Utd and Loftus Road (QPR) felt the downward tug; even Manchester Utd gave ground, off 10.5p to 693.5p.

Granada fell 17.5p to 895p as chairman Gerry Robinson sold 57,500 shares at 914p. He now has 301,000.

Storehouse rose 12.5p to 292.5p. Morgan Stanley believes the shares are over the worst and will reach 335p.

Peptide Therapeutics jumped 40p to 369p on an alliance with SmithKline Beecham to develop allergy vaccine and Shield Diagnostic added 23p to 285p despite top-slicing by a venture capitalist.

Profit warnings were again a feature. Toad, engaged in vehicle security, reversed 19.5p to 41.5p; VDC, a pharmaceutical group, slumped 110p to 165p and Triad, a computer operation, crashed 45p to 228.5p.

Portsmouth & Sunderland Newspapers jumped 62.5p to 820p in response to a 150,000 share trade at 825p.

Newcomer C&B Publishing continued to push ahead, up another 15p at 180p, and Internet Technology rose 13p to 56.5p as Jan Murray, founder of PC World (now part of Dixons) took over as chairman.

Taking Stock

Emerald Energy rose 1p to 5.25p in busy trading. An analysts presentation, due next week, created the excitement. Managing director Peter Winton intends to discuss the company's Colombian drilling programme. There is considerable excitement about Emerald's venture. Stockbroker T Hoare says if the wells come up to scratch they would be worth up to 24p a share; US operations could add a further 4p a share.

Alpha Omikron, described as an emerging markets specialist, fell 0.25p to 3.75p. After the market closed it said Henderson Crosthwaite had resigned as broker and adviser.

Tile maker Quiligotti gained 6.5p to 21.5p as shareholders who helped save the company sold 50.75 per cent of the capital at 20.5p to institutions.

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