Market Report: Bowleven back in the takeover spotlight

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The Independent Online

The rumour mill has been rather quiet around Bowleven as of late. It was a different story near the start of the year when punters were getting excited over the possibility of an approach. However, after Dubai's Dragon Oil decided in February that, having had a think, it was not going to make a bid, the West Africa-focused explorer has lost more than 40 per cent.

Yet yesterday those still dreaming of a takeover were given a boost by Goldman Sachs as scribblers from the broker decided Aim-listed Bowleven still looked appealing to a suitor.

Although they conceded that, despite the recent weakness of share prices in the sector, stocks were not cheap enough to "incentivise widespread M&A" among the energy explorers, they did add that "attractive targets remain".

One of them is Bowleven, according to the analysts, who also raised their price target for the group (which is on their "conviction buy list") to 261p – more than three times higher than where it currently trades.

It was not the only one finding itself in the takeover spotlight, with Genel Energy and Falkland Islands driller Rockhopper also among those highlighted by the analysts as looking attractive.

At the same time the former, which is headed up by former BP boss Tony Hayward, pictured, had its rating upgraded to "buy", with the scribes saying the Kurdistan-focused group's share price should be higher "given the quality of the company's assets and [its] strong cash balance".

However, despite the bid talk, the explorers were unable to avoid the market sell-off as Bowleven and Rockhopper dipped 3.25p to 73p and 14p to 295.5p respectively on Aim, while Genel was pegged back 16p to 636p.

Meanwhile, their peer, Ophir Energy, was one of the worst hit on the mid-tier index, slumping 33p to 518p, despite Goldman Sachs more than doubling the group's target price to 850p from 409p.

Having set a record low for 2012 on Tuesday, there was no let-up for the FTSE 100 as the City continued to wait for news from Greece where politicians are attempting to form a coalition government. At one point during trading, the benchmark index dropped well below 5,500 points, and although there was a late rally, by the bell it was still 24.5 points worse off at 5,530.05.

Those who stuck to the old trader's motto of "sell in May and go away" will certainly have been pleased – after the first day of the month saw the Footsie move above the 5,800-point level, it has now lost close to 5 per cent in just five sessions.

The fact that a number of companies were trading ex-dividend did not exactly help, with Aberdeen Asset Management (10.3p lower at 259.2p) and G4S (6.9p lower at 262.8p) among those losing their payout attraction.

Carlsberg's first-quarter results did not help SAB Miller, as the Grolsch-brewer slid back 16p to 2,484.5p after its Danish rival revealed it was gaining share in Russia, where the two go head-to-head.

Of those blue-chip companies which did manage to rise, broadcaster ITV and commodities trader Glencore advanced 1.75p to 82.5p and 5.95p to 397.95p respectively after first-quarter updates from both were greeted positively. Meanwhile, Glencore's positive comments helped a number of the miners, including Vedanta Resources which jumped 30p to 1,089p to finish in pole on the top-tier index.

Elsewhere, telecoms giant BT climbed 2.7p to 217.2p ahead of today's final results. Oriel Securities' John Karidis was telling punters to pile in, saying that "management's record of under-promising and over-delivering has now led to the share price... having a record of performing strongly on results days."

With the latest data from the retail sector showing sales over April suffered the biggest fall for more than a year, Singer Capital Markets' scribes pointed out that the high street will not exactly have been helped by the terrible weather already seen this month.

Meanwhile, on the FTSE 250, Debenhams (2.4p better off at 77.85p) and Argos-owner Home Retail (1.6p better off at 74.6p) managed to shrug off the data, fashion firm SuperGroup retreated 18p to 307p before today's fourth-quarter results. The update is especially eagerly awaited after last month's profit warning, which the owner of the SuperDry chain blamed partly on getting its sums wrong.

Aim-listed tech firm Microsaic shot up 4.5p to 36.5p after revealing it had struck a deal to provide at least 100 of its MiD product to an unnamed "international supplier of laboratory equipment".

Having announced the signing of two new contracts – including one with blue-chip utility SSE (5p lower at 1,324p) to provide metering services across most of the country – Smart Metering Systems powered up 9.5p to 128.5p.