Shares: British Land leads blue chips in another headlong charge

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The Independent Online
British Land, the property group created by John Ritblat, led blue chips on another headlong charge as stories swirled it could be the next to get involved in corporate action.

One persistent suggestion is a bid for MEPC, the nation's third largest property group which looks vulnerable.

Earlier this year MEPC had merger talks with smaller rival Hammerson; then it dallied with Greycoat before nearly getting together with Burford. In between, it is thought to have had more than a passing acquaintance with BritLand.

MEPC is currently indulging in a defensive restructuring. It is retreating from foreign parts, intending to hand to shareholders pounds 300m of the proceeds from its overseas sales.

Institutions are unhappy with MEPC's performance and some have been agitating for a deal.

But it seems a reluctance to force MEPC into a merger it did not want killed off the proposed Hammerson deal; the Burford alliance was seen as a way of strengthening MEPC's management; it stumbled when agreement on management roles in the enlarged group could not be reached.

All the manoeuvring has proclaimed the message that MEPC is in play. Some suspect Mr Ritblat has now decided to act.

BritLand was at one time 34.5p higher at a 699.5p peak; the shares closed at 694p, a 29p gain. MEPC jumped 17p to 451p; its pounds 247m bid for the rather unglamorous PSIT property group has been accepted by shareholders representing 96.17 per cent.

Footsie had another high octane session, ending 34.7 points higher at 5,330.8, another peak. At one time it appeared to have run out of steam but when New York opened with a rush, inspired by subdued employment figures, the bulls regained the ascendancy.

Supporting shares joined in. The FTSE 250 MidCap index jumped 22.6 to a 4,883.9 peak and the FTSE SmallCap index added 11.1 to 2,360.8.

Redland, the building materials group which looked like being demolished by worse than expected interim figures, continued to recover. It is claimed chairman Rupert Agnew regards the group as vulnerable to a predatory strike. A review is under way which could lead to job losses. The shares rallied 21.5p to 254p; they slumped to 220p when the half-time results appeared.

BT remained in demand, up 10p to 469.5p in another round of heavy trading. Barclays' planned BZW deal left the shares 49.5p down at 1,697.5p.

British Biotech had the dubious distinction of becoming another drug group to disappoint, falling 15.5p to 134p after abandoning an arthritis treatment. Glaxo Wellcome put on 26.5p to 1,397.5p and Shield Diagnostic, still basking in the Sutherlands investment meeting, rose a further 22.5p to 752.5p.

BTR eased 3p to 243p with UBS saying sell. It believes the price should be 220p. GKN, weighed down by worries it may be tempted to mount a counter bid for T&N, improved 46.5p to 1,399.5p with HSBC maintaining the shares should be 1,540p.

Takeover favourite Britton, a packaging group, rose 3p to 78.5p after signalling a share buy-back.

Verity jumped 15p to a 72.75p record in busy trading. It has clinched seven more licensing deals, making 11 this year, for its NXT wafer thin loudspeaker technology. Negotiations involving another 20 links are going on. In the year to June the company made a pounds 7.3m loss. Last year Verity shares were down to 5,5p.

Tunstall, an electronic group, was lifted 16p to 107p on a proposed management buyout. Network Technology held at 159p. The company, developing and selling print servers, has suffered contract delays and Merrill Lynch has cut its profits forecast but suggests the shares could reach 250p in the next year. It is looking for pounds 4.5m this year and pounds 6.7m next.

Latchways, which develops safety equipment for builders, made a firm debut. Placed at 155p the shares closed at 174.5p.

London & Edinburgh Publishing firmed to 5.5p. New chairman John Webber and his deputy David Ellingham have each picked up 4.92 per cent of the capital at 2.55p. The shares appear to have come from founders Robert Gold and Anthony Hussain.