Market Report: Arm pushes for a chips deal in Vegas

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The Independent Online

News out of Las Vegas doesn't usually rock the benchmark index in London, but its annual Consumer Electronics Show this week has been perking up Arm Holdings' share price, it would seem. The microchip designer was top of the tree and its share price put on more than 4 per cent today, closing up 36.5p to 863.5p following a stream of updates this week, which included a new licensing agreement with Broadcom.

Reports today suggested that James Bruce, Arm's lead mobile strategist, had said chip giant Intel should ditch its relationship with the x86 architecture and instead use Arm's designs for its chips. So what is said in Vegas, doesn't always stay in Vegas.

Intel's market share in mobile devices is just 1 per cent, as Arm holds a near monopoly. But Intel is trying to give Arm a run for its money and has launched a low-cost smartphone that could be a threat. The show packs up today and investors will be digesting the news of the past week.

Marks & Spencer was the talk of the town back in London for another reason. Chief executive Marc Bolland hasn't been having a good week. He had to spend Wednesday evening talking analysts and journalists through the retailers' latest results after Sky News leaked the results early. Then once the market digested the weak results the shares spent most of today at the bottom of the blue-chip index, finishing down 2.2p to 368.8p.

Its food sales weren't bad over Christmas, but its clothing sales are the real problem. Investec's Bethany Hocking points out that it is the sixth consecutive quarter of like-for-like sales growth decline for general merchandise.

While Next, up 24p to 3,925p, has been riding high on the back of its strong Christmas sales results, M&S has disappointed. Is this a terminal problem or just a Christmas blip?

Panmure Gordon thinks M&S is "attractive at 340p" and gives a target price of 379p, down from 397p "to reflect a greater level of risk". But Panmure's Jean Roche is encouraged by its spring/summer collection which "already looks a lot stronger than the past few seasons".

Banking stocks were still in favour after the relaxation of Basel III banking regulation on Monday. Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the best performers, adding 6.9p to 356.8p.

The distributor and outsourcer Bunzl announced a string of acquisitions; the shares gained 34p to 1,049p.

The blue-chip index continued its strong run during morning trade today as investors took confidence from Chinese trade data that came in above expectations. But the FTSE 100 index stumbled in the afternoon trading session and only managed to move up 2.86 points to 6,101.51.

The builder CRH was the subject of extremely vague bid rumours, accompanied by a share price rise of 8p to 1,233p.

The media group WPP's clients are returning to Channel 4 after a £250m advertising dispute was settled. This was bad news for shares in rival ITV, which had been benefiting from the row. ITV's shares slipped 1.6p to 107.7p.

The weak link at the pest-control group Rentokil Initial has been its parcels business, but City analysts indicated it has other problems lurking beneath the floorboards. HSBC's Matthew Lloyd reckons Rentokil's disposal or fixing of its parcels business City Link is "so distracting a sideshow that other issues have been overlooked by the market". The parcels game was supposed to be a licence to print money as more and more of us were shopping on the internet, but City Link has been unable to make a profit. A management buyout has been on the cards, but Mr Lloyd thinks that any plans to fix City Link's problems could actually be far more difficult.

Delivering parcels profitably is not the only difficulty. Mr Lloyd thinks Rentokil "has persistent problems elsewhere in the business" which he thinks other analysts have glossed over. The rat-catcher also has a hotel laundry business and Mr Lloyd notes the group "still loses too many textile and washroom contracts".

Mr Lloyd downgraded the stock to underweight – a sell – from neutral and reduced the target price to 77p from 87p. The shares were one of the worst performers on the mid-cap index and declined 2.45p to 91.95p.

The buildings materials group SIG said sales were flat and it warned that the construction markets would remain challenging this year. But pre-tax profit should come in at £82m for last year and the shares built their way to the top of the index, up 8p to 135p.