Rumour of large Vodafone cash call mobilises sellers

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The Independent Online
One of the messages carried on City mobiles yesterday was that Vodafone may accompany next week's interim results with a heavy cash call.

In busy trading the shares fell 6.5p to 251.5p; they have eased from 270p this month. Rumours suggested the cellular telecoms group, although lowly geared, had decided to call on shareholders to finance overseas acquisitions.

It has made no secret of its desire to take full control of its foreign associates when and if the opportunity occurs.

The story drew strength from an investment trip planned for later this month. The group intends to take a dozen analysts to study its operations in such countries as Fiji and South Africa.

The cash call rumour, however, was not the only call on Vodafone's shares. Stories that, despite the heavy turnover, a large line of stock still hovered went the rounds; so did suggestions of a fourth operator being allowed into the German market where Vodafone is deeply involved.

The results are expected to show the group continues to make headway. Tressan McCarthy at Panmure Gordon is looking for pounds 223.6m, a 23 per cent gain.

Cable and Wireless, reporting interim figures tomorrow, was little changed at 425p although stories of a possible break-up and a lack of unanimity in the boardroom continue to circulate. Profits are expected to emerge at around pounds 612m against pounds 567m.

The rest of the stock market remained firm, with New York shrugging aside the US budget stand-off and moving to a record, encouraged by the proposed 3M spin-off and a possible interest rate cut tom- orrow. The FT-SE 100 index rose 11.1 points to 3,547.9.

Analyst recommendations had an impact. Lehman Brothers lifted Forte 5p to 253p after visiting the hotel group's US operations; an SBC Warburg downgrading lowered Sears, the retailer, 3p to 101p, and British Gas, third-quarter figures due today, was supported by Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull.

P&O, the building and shipping group, managed to throw off the burden of cross-Channel competition and gained 16p to 494p on the back of a NatWest Securities buy recommendation.

The securities house expects the group to lose pounds 50m in revenues this year and next due to competition from Eurotunnel.

Rolls-Royce, the aero-engine group, was the top blue-chip performer, rising 11.5p to 172.5p on its pounds 1.2bn Singapore Airlines deal. Another beneficiary, Smiths Industries, gained 12p to 594p. British Aerospace ignored any disappointment, firming to 730p.

Engineer Cobham, up 31p to 432p, was supported by its pounds 75m takeover of Westwind Air Bearings, which will be funded by a rights issue.

Oils remained firm on hopes the crude price will move ahead. British Petroleum rose 8.5p to 488.5p and Shell 6.5p to 745.5p.

SelecTV, the programme producer, held at 31.5p. Pearson, up 13p to 638p, has emerged as the favourite to bid.

The company said a month ago it had received approaches. There has, however, been some suggestion SelecTV could be split, with its production side - which includes Lovejoy and Birds of a Feather, going to Pearson and its 15 per cent interest in Meridian, the south of England ITV contractor, to its fellow shareholder, MAI.

London Clubs is attracting attention following the sale by the Barclay brothers of their 24 per cent interest. Some wonder whether it could attract a Far Eastern bid along the lines of the surprise strike for Asprey, the upmarket jeweller.

Heavy trading, with a series of delayed deals recorded, left the price down 6p at 425p. It was suggested the shares were depressed by one of the institutions, which had picked up some of the Barclay shares, taking its profits. After the fall the London Clubs is 14p below its peak.

Profit warnings knocked Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the paper group, 11.5p to 194.5p and Geest, the fresh food group, 32p to 107p.

Cortecs International continued its heady run, up 29p to 160p following encouraging trading statements, and AromaScan, a producer of an "electronic nose", jumped 14p to 160p on a pounds 4.8m marketing deal with Danish group Foss Electric.

Telemetrix, the electronic group, rose 13p to 157p following Credit Lyonnais Laing support. The securities house drew attention to prospects at Telemetrix's US off-shoot, GTI Corporation. Electrophoretics, the medical group, rose 10p to 140p on talk of a significant announcement soon.

TAKING STOCK

r Clouds continue to hang over First Choice, the holiday company. Its pounds 44m cash call closes today and the betting is that many shareholders have declined to take up their rights.

While First Choice is guaranteed the funds, there is concern that a low take-up will leave the market awash with stock which will continue to depress the shares. They closed at 61p, just a penny above the rights price.

r Unipalm fell 6p to 697p after UUNET, the US group linked to Microsoft, declared its offer had given it 85.47 per cent of the Internet provider's capital. The strength of UUNET shares in recent weeks has lifted the offer to around 690p compared with the expectation of 450p when the bid was announced.

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