Market Report: Cupid plunges after Ukraine allegations

 

The latest tiff in the rocky love affair between investors and Cupid sent its shares down more than 57 per cent after the niche dating sites specialist was forced to respond to an article published in Ukraine.

The report by the Kyiv Post alleged Cupid is using its staff to tempt people to sign up in the country. It follows a BBC investigation into Cupid last month, which found surfers who created free profiles on some of its sites complaining that when they became paid-up members in order to reply to received responses they saw their would-be suitors tailing off.

The hedge fund boss John Hempton of Bronte Capital also waded in to the chat. He revealed he'd attracted interest from 50 women after creating a fake profile titled "Fat, lazy, poor sick guy wants support", portraying a "morbidly obese, poor, venereal disease-infected and grotesquely smelly guy with psychological problems who needs someone to replace their mum".

Cupid yesterday said it is "carrying out an investigation into the allegations". But it admitted that claims that "members who have signed on a three-day trial membership are then encouraged through messages created by Cupid employees to move to a full subscription" will be "directly addressed" by "an independent audit by one of the big four accounting firms and will report the findings to the market as soon as possible".

The shares fell nearly a third last month on news of the BBC investigation. Yesterday they were down 65p to 49p.

One trader admitted the stock had been targeted by short sellers but it has also been regularly suggested as a bid target.

Over on the benchmark index oil giant BP's plan to return $8bn (£5.3bn) to investors, a day after completing the sale of its troubled TNK-BP Russian joint venture, sent the shares up 8.3p to 457.7p. BP chief executive Bob Dudley estimated it will be equivalent to at least the next six years' worth of dividends it would have received had it held on to its 50 per cent stake in the joint venture.

Astrazeneca's new job culling plan was met with applause in the City. The drugmaker is embarking on a $2.3bn (£1.5bn) restructuring plan, revealed by chief executive Pascal Soriot on Thursday. Not good news for staff, with a further 2,300 jobs cuts announced alongside the 1,600 unveiled earlier in the week. However, analysts gave the plans a thumbs-up, with Natixis raising its rating to hold, up from reduce, while Kepler upped its share price target to 2,700p.

Morgan Stanley's scribblers said: "While expectations were low, we believe management has gained incremental credibility regarding its plans to reshape research and development, and return AstraZeneca to growth." Punters piled in to the stock and it gained 103p to 3,236p, a 22-month high.

Equity markets were buoyed by news that Cyprus agreed to spin off Greek units of its banks to Greece and the FTSE 100, after a bumpy ride, added 4.21 points to 6392.76 in the wake of five days in the red.

Telecoms group BT got a boost from Nomura's analysts and took the top spot on the blue-chips. Nomura rates the stock a buy and raised its target price to 360p from 290p.

Nomura said signs that European regulators will not bring in charge controls for broadband is good news for BT, which will also be boosted by its "solid launch" of BT Sport, hosted by presenters including Clare Balding. The shares rang up a 10.4p gain to 276.7p.

Marks & Spencer, which has been the subject of takeover speculation recently, also got a boost from City scribblers, this time analysts at Société Générale.

SocGen upped its share price target for the retailer to 468p and the shares added 7.6p to 397.6p.

Luxury brand Burberry suffered after a profit warning from handbags brand Mulberry. British star Burberry's shares lost 57p to 1,330p after Mulberry's profit warning sent its own shares down 211p to 1,024p.

Luxury shares have also been hit by news in China of a crackdown on advertising of luxury goods.

Shares in mid-cap insurer Phoenix rose 44p to 649.5p after the company said it was finally ready to make acquisitions for the first time in two years following negotiations with its lending banks.

AIM-listed Beacon Hill Resources cleared a large share overhang after Pelham Investments bought all of Renaissance Financial's 236,264,884 shares. Beacon Hill added 0.13p to 3.33p.

Buy

London Mining

Snap up shares in London Mining, analysts insist. Jefferies thinks the iron ore miner reported solid second-half results yesterday and likes the successful ramp-up of its Marampa iron ore mine. It warns a "seasonally weak iron ore price" may weigh on shares but it says it "continues to see attractive long-term value". Jefferies rates the shares a buy with a 250p price target for shares that are 133p.

Sell

Homeserve

Flog shares in Homeserve, Peel Hunt suggests. The company that sells emergency repair services for householders revealed a cautious outlook for the UK and said a Financial Services Authority investigation into mis-selling continues. Peel Hunt thinks that "despite clear overseas progress, we remain nervous until greater signs of UK customer growth" and rates the shares a sell with a 170p price target. The shares were 211.4p.

Hold

Asos

Hang on to shares in fashion website Asos, Nomura recommends. They think "fashion is becoming more global and Asos is increasingly a leader in the online space with formidable entry barriers". But as the shares are so high Nomura thinks it is advisable to look for a "better entry point than the current price". They rate the shares a hold with a 2,630p price target for shares that are 3,293p.

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