Market Report: Icap falls as Libor concerns persist

  • @LauraHChesters

City scribblers think the time to buy Icap will come, but it is not quite yet. The interdealer broker has been caught up in the Libor scandal and US authorities are now reportedly investigating it as part of a widening inquiry into Libor interest rate rigging.

Icap, which is run by the former Tory party treasurer Michael Spencer, is already being investigated by the Financial Services Authority. The Numis banking expert James Hamilton, in a note headed "Libor just won't go away", rated Icap a sell. He reduced his outlook from neutral and gave the stock a price target of 295p. The shares responded and ended the day down 5.5p at 352.2p.

But Mr Hamilton hasn't written off the broker. He thinks "the trading environment has improved" but the point when Icap becomes a buy is "when you believe US interest rates will be expected to go up, which looks to be coming closer".

Mr Hamilton believes "Icap remains a key part of the global financial plumbing" and consequently does not believe its business model is broken.

It isn't just Libor rigging that has thrown brokers into the spotlight though. A series of consolidations, takeovers and mergers is on the cards. As the market shifts – volumes are down and brokers are not making much money – firms need to be leaner.

Last week the City stockbroker Seymour Pierce was placed into administration and New York-based Cantor Fitzgerald rescued its broking business.

Cantor was said to be eyeing Capital Spreads' parent, London Capital Group. Cantor wasn't alone though. London Capital's share price jumped 8.5p to 48.5p and it was forced to announce that it received "preliminary approaches" from Cantor Fitzgerald Europe, GAIN Capital Holdings and Michael Spencer's spread-betting firm City Index.

Analysts at KBW said: "Consolidation among the smaller players in spread betting makes good sense in the same way it does for smaller, less well-diversified exchanges. The economic rationale of pushing more business through a largely fixed-cost platform is sound."

With a taste for takeovers, traders were still speculating over the mid-cap inter-dealer broker Tullett Prebon. Its shares were up 9.2p at 290p and it has been the subject of vague bid talk for a week.

Another subject of very vague takeover speculation was the online grocer Ocado. Traders thought a short seller squeeze was pushing its price up and its shares put on 9.8p to 137.1p.

Even the benchmark index wasn't without bid gossip, and ITV was said to be a potential target for overseas media groups. Most traders were sceptical and the shares ended the day with a 0.8p loss to 114.8p.

The equities bull run wobbled last week, but analysts think optimism is at a two-year high. Bank of America Merrill Lynch's experts published "Who's afraid of the big bad bull" and revealed that fund managers are the most optimistic they have been in more than two years.

Only one in 10 global fund managers expects a recession any time soon, and investors want companies to "pursue growth", with 48 per cent hoping companies will spend cash to expand.

Not only are the global fund managers at their most bullish, but finally the eurozone outlook is catching up too. Bank of America's John Bilton says: "After lagging global optimism for several months, eurozone growth expectations jumped in February."

The FTSE 100 index was boosted by good news from the banking sector – namely Barclays. It added 61.32 points to 6,338.38, the biggest one-day gain since last month.

Details of Barclays' drastic cost-cutting strategy and strong results took it to the top of the tree, up 25.85p to 327.35p, followed by Lloyds Banking Group, which gained 2.7p to 55.45p, and Royal Bank of Scotland, ahead 13.9p to 354.2p.

The embattled coal producer Bumi was up 18.9p to 404p. After the market closed Indonesia's Bakrie Group detailed its plans to unwind its interest in the coal miner in exchange for Bumi's stake in Asia's biggest thermal coal exporter, PT Bumi Resources. It also emerged that supporters of co-founder Nat Rothschild had increased their stake on Monday by buying six million shares for around £24m.

The small-cap pawnbroker Albemarle & Bond reported half-year profits down by a third, and the shares responded by plummeting 17p to 212.25p. Its cash-for-gold business has particularly suffered.