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Market Report: Horsemeat scandal fails to scare investors


The frequency of new horse meat jokes may have reduced, but the rate that new companies mixed up in the equine outrage emerge is showing no signs of slowing. Yesterday a Marks & Spencer sandwich and soup supplier got itself in a sticky mess over a sauce it supplied to Asda.

Greencore earlier this week said it had "no reason to believe it had been affected in any way" by the horse meat scandal sweeping Europe's food industry. But yesterday, after its share price continued to fall during the week, it announced its Asda beef bolognese sauce has been withdrawn "following the detection of traces of equine DNA".

Greencore is just the latest food producer to be caught up in the fiasco, and its shares lost as much as 20 per cent, but recovered some of this loss and ended down 9.75p to 92.5p on the news.

The yearly revenue from all Greencore's products currently withdrawn totals less than £1m, but there could be further cases. If horse meat traces were found in Greencore products supplied to M&S it could be of even greater concern to investors. But Darren Shirley at Shore Capital, which rates Greencore as hold with 88p share price target, said: "We do believe that in due course Greencore and the broader food chain will emerge with a more robust procurement system, and so the underlying investment case for Greencore should not be derailed."

Traces of horse meat found in food from the catering group Compass and the hotels to coffee group Whitbread did not rattle investors yesterday. Whitbread shares were up 20p to 2,671p, while Compass added 4p to 784p. Trevor Green, fund manager at the Compass shareholder Aviva, said: "The key is to respond quickly and openly, which Compass has done. Now they have updated the market on the situation we think this is a non-issue for the group."

The pub group Greene King – owner of the Hungry Horse pub and food chain – said it was "happy to report that no problems have so far been found". The news deprived comedians of a new gag, but the shares lifted 4.5p to 710p.

Moving away from horsegate, shareholders in London Stock Exchange were unhappy with an update from the clearing house LCH.Clearnet. LSE is set to buy LCH, but its underlying earnings were disappointing, and analysts at RBC Capital warned there are signs that the "integration and turnaround could be lengthy and complicated".

LSE had earlier this week been trading at close to a five-year high, but yesterday the shares tumbled 53p to 1,288p.

Over on the benchmark index, the broadcast group ITV was up 3.6p to 117p after the advertising giant WPP got a boost from analysts at Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley upped their share price for the group run and co-founded by Sir Martin Sorrell and the shares responded with a 28p gain to 1,047p.

Analysts at Citi took a look at Cambridge-based Arm Holdings. Citi's Amit Harchandani wanted investors to forget images of a geeky tech company making microchips in a laboratory. He argued that Arm should be seen as a consumer stock.

Arm designs microchips that power smartphones and tablets for the likes of the consumer brands Apple and Samsung. Mr Harchandani rates it a buy and raises his price target to 1,070p, up from 835p. The shares added 15p to 940p.

The FTSE 100 index in early trade was still suffering from investor concerns following news of weak European gross domestic product data, but during the afternoon it picked up and closed up 0.9 points to 6,328.26.

The change in outlook was down to good US economic data, clearly demonstrating that investors in the blue-chip index are more concerned about global updates than local UK data like the surprisingly weak UK retail sales announced yesterday.

Unconfirmed reports that a broker at Tullet Prebon had been cited by regulators investigating Libor fixing sent the shares down 17.8p to 282p on the mid-cap index.

AIM-listed Oxfordshire-based Lombard Medical Technologies got US Food & Drug Administration approval for an artery drug and the shares pumped up 60.5p to 239p.

Regus' offer for the serviced office provider MWB Exchange has been trumped by the Hong Kong-based Pyrrho Investments. Pyrrho has launched a £65m counter-offer and MWB's shares worked up a 36.5p rise to 98p.


Sinclair IS PHarma

Douse yourself with Sinclair, Peel Hunt advises. The broker feels the market is gaining more confidence in the dermatology firm's "steep earnings trajectory" and sees it "emerging as a target in its own right, as there is a paucity of smaller derma firms with a global platform". Can't say fairer than that. Shares are 24.75p but Peel gives a target of 40p.


Millennium & Copthorne

Check out of M&C, Panmure Gordon recommends. The hotel group posts full-year numbers on Friday and the broker expects "broadly unchanged earnings". It adds that shares trade at a price-earnings ratio of 17.1, which it feels is "too rich". Shares are 555p but have a target of 353p.



Hang on to Darty, Cantor Fitzgerald Research urges – a little bizarrely, given the electrical retailer's profit warning last week. The broker says plans to dispose of the French firm's loss-making, non-core businesses is "a major step in the right direction", but stabilisation "could take several years". Shares are 46p and Cantor gives a target of 45p.