Reed plays key role as punters place bets on takeovers

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Suddenly it was just like old times. In the most bid-happy day for months, tales of takeover action swirled, lifting blue chips and second-liners in often brisk trading.

Reed International, the Anglo-Dutch media group, was a key element in the speculative proceedings as stories allegedly filtered through from the Netherlands that it intended to swoop on Reuters, the information group.

Whether the stock market lost touch with reality remains to be seen. But the Reed story was eventually refined with Bloomberg, the privately owned information group, replacing Reuters.

It is widely believed Reed would like to absorb Bloomberg and may have sounded out its founder, Michael Bloomberg. If it did descend on the wire service it would offer the financial muscle for an aggressive challenge to Reuters. Pearson, the banking and media group which produced better- than-expected figures on Monday, was also caught in the Reed net. Talk the Anglo-Dutch group would produce the bid the world and his dog have for long anticipated pushed the shares up 9p to 654p against 611p ahead of the results.

Reed is due to produce interim figures today. Up to pounds 415m against pounds 370m is expected. Its shares put on 21p to 1,150p while Reuters, where a pounds 900m cash pile means share buy-back hopes are never far below the surface, added 22p to 729p.

Utilities were also drawn into the bid maelstrom. An electricity buy note from Morgan Stanley helped generate the excitement; the US investment house believes most of the remaining independents are worthy of attention. Northern, up 14p at 548p, made its own contribution by announcing plans for a second special dividend.

East Midlands Electricity, up 14p at 597p, ignored reports that one of its proposed US bidders, Virginia Power, had been told by its state regulator to confine its activities to its own backyard. VP has not, according to the rumour mill, been a leading contender for East Midland, with Florida Power and Houston Industries the main players.

There were also ripples on the water front with Severn Trent 18p higher at 597p and Wessex, on Southern Electricity bid hopes, 8p at 348p.

Imperial Chemical Industries was another drawn into the bid frame. The shares rose 10p to 796p as talk of a German strike mingled with share buy-back hopes.

Thorn EMI was given a spin, ahead of the demerger. Seagram, the Canadian drinks giant with a growing thirst for showbiz, was said to be planning an asset sale to mount a bid for the music side.

A covered warrants issue on the rental and music constituents from Barclays de Zoete Wedd added to the excitement with the shares up 21p to 1,786p.

The speculative atmosphere helped the FT-SE 100 index above 3,800 points for the first time since early May. It closed 22.7 points higher at 3,811.1, its sixth consecutive gain.

Turnover was reported at a respectable 808.9 million shares with a 33.1 million trade in Freepages, the directory group, allegedly the largest single trade. Strangely keen activity, including four 9 million trades, in Kay's Food was blissfully ignored, casting further doubts on the reported daily volume figures. The 666.9 million trade in Just, which distorted Monday's volume, was an error, presumably the action of a spaghetti-fingered trader.

Tesco, meeting analysts and attracting profit upgrades, rose 5p to 296p and Argos, with results soon, gained 11p to 745p. Greig Middleton expects pounds 25m, up from pounds 21.8m.

Barclays' remarkable progress continued with a 27.5p gain to 900p and confident talk of pounds 10 being reached.

NatWest Securities moved from hold to add on Mirror Group, lifting the shares 4.5p to 192.5p. Despite BZW sell advice J Sainsbury rose 8p to 400p.

Birkdale, the marketing group, fell 0.75p to 6.5p after confirming it was considering a cash-raising exercise; Crown Eyeglass, up 25p to 235p, is planning a buy-back of up to 15 per cent and is journeying in the opposite direction to most - from the USM to Aim.

Applied Distribution fell 53p to 92p after a second-half profit warning. It intends to hold its final dividend at 4.5p.

Emap, the publisher, rose 22.5p to 685p, partly on the back of Metal Bulletin, up 63p to 1,063p following its 39 per cent profit advance. The publishing group has 20.6 per cent of MB.

British Biotech fell 6p to 229p as Credit Lyonnais Laing said sell. Chiroscience fell 17p to 363p.

TAKING STOCK

Springwood, the old JO Walker timber group now the vehicle for leisure entrepreneur Adam Page, continues to move off its 633p low, gaining a further 8p to 673p. The recovery has been helped by growing evidence of its leisure ambitions.

Today it opens a venue bar, with a 1,000-customer capacity, at Newcastle- under-Lyme and plans more such ventures as well as night club openings later this year. Mr Page established Midsummer as a leading leisure group before it was taken over after a furious and controversial battle.

Dolphin Packaging, a maker of those sandwich and hamburger packs, is, at 171p, nudging its 12 month high. It is believed to be trading well but looks a prime take over candidate with MY Holdings thought to be lurking.

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