Share sales: the height of fashion

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The Independent Online
OASIS Stores, the fashion chain which floated in June 1995, continues to rack up sales - directors' share sales, that is. Lynne Burstall, the design director, sold 50,000 shares at 401p on Monday to reduce her holding to 184,943. She was following in the footsteps of one of the founders, Maurice Bennett, who sold 800,000 shares, and Vivian Scott, the managing director, who sold 6,000 the week before.

The shares reached their all- time high of 421.5p in February, but have been stuck in a range between 350p and 420p since May last year.

It looks like a clear sell signal.

A more positive note in the property market for Brixton Estates, where non-executive D Marlow added 55,000 shares, at 170p, to boost his stake to 97,321 shares.

Partners Holdings, a retail stationery stores group, has just completed a successful 150p a share placing. Broker Peel Hunt placed 5.6 million shares, raising pounds 5.05m for the company in the process. Most of it will be used to fund a new electronic point of sales system, finance a new warehouse, and provide working capital. The deal values Partners at pounds 28m, and the shares were twice oversubscribed. Expect a small premium of 5 to 8 per cent when dealings begin tomorrow.

BAT chairman Sir Patrick Cairns hinted once again at the possibility of demerger, stating that if a combined tobacco and financial services business brought shareholders the best return on their money, the structure of the business would have to be reviewed. The comments reopened debate about the future of the insurance sector, where there is a clear need for further consolidation. BAT rose 4.5p to 523.5p.

In telecoms, the big event of the week was the announcement by Cable & Wireless that it would float a 14.7 per cent stake in Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), Britain's biggest and newest cable telephone and television group, in London and New York on Monday.

CWC comprises the Mercury unit of Britain's Cable and Wireless and the three British cable TV units of Nynex Corp and Bell Canada.

CWC confirmed after the market had closed on Friday that more than 95 per cent of North American investors had accepted share offers in the new company, which has been valued by analysts at pounds 4.5bn. A partial flotation was expected immediately after the offer closed.

After the merger, there will be only one brand name - Cable & Wireless - and a huge advertising campaign is planned to win public recognition.

With assets worth pounds 4.5bn, CWC will provide a wide range of local, national and international voice and data services and, in some regions, multichannel TV and internet computer services.

Despite bringing together cable TV groups Nynex CableComms, Bell Cablemedia and Videotron, CWC's core business will be the telephony provided by Mercury.

But with initially only 1.1 million residential telecom and 80,000 business customers compared to BT's 20.5 million residential and 7 million business clients, some say the new company will only pose a serious threat to BT by the middle of the next century.

With huge capital investment commitments, a dividend might not be paid before 2001 at the earliest.

The company hopes to be the first to roll out a 200-channel service ahead of its rivals, which include satellite broadcaster BSkyB, possibly by autumn.

Cable & Wireless will have a 52.6 per cent stake in CWC. BT was down 7p to 443.5p on Friday.

Hepworth (270p) has been one of the dullest performers in the building materials sector, but analyst Howard Proctor at stockbroker Societe Generale believes the arrival of Jeremy Lancaster as non-executive chairman, one of the sector's star performers, coupled with the surprise resignation of chief executive John Carter, heralds a new dawn at the group. He believes the management changes will speed up a restructuring, which will reposition the company in more exciting building related markets. He rates the shares a buy.