Market Report: Morrisons drops as southern push stalls

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The Independent Online

City scribblers were betting that the Bradford-based supermarket Morrisons' assault on London and the South-east hasn't gone to plan.

Morrisons had hoped its march on the South and new stores with "fresh formats" could help it to compete with rivals. But Barclays scribes are less than impressed, and cut their target price on the stock to 295p, from 320p, ahead of its half-year results on Thursday. Other analysts chatter that there could be further downgrades after the interims next week.

Morrisons, down 1p at 280p, has been losing market share. Nielsen data on British food retailers for the month to 18 August revealed it has underperformed the sector with 1.5 per cent sales growth, behind rivals. Heavy discounting in the shape of vouchers at other chains has hit the Yorkshire company hard.

The chief executive, Dalton Philips, has been trying to work his magic, with new formats and ideas, and even bought a children's website, Kiddicare.

But Barclays' James Anstead said: "Recently unveiled initiatives have not had the effect one might have hoped for, and the turning point is not immediately obvious. But we think that management will emphasise the many ongoing initiatives – and we expect consensus estimates to be trimmed rather than slashed."

The FTSE 100, which has been down for most of the week, picked up 8 points and closed at 5711.5. The small gains made on the index during the morning were mostly lost during afternoon trade, when the speech from the US Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, delivered what analysts had expected. Mr Bernanke admitted he is open to the possibility of further stimulus to promote growth, but he would not commit to action.

News from France helped the luxury Brit brand Burberry to sashay up 25p to 1353p on the back of a stonking performance from its more upmarket rival Hermès in Asia.

After heavy falls in mining stocks earlier in the week, the sector began a recovery of sorts and the Glenstrata saga rolled on. The proposed merger of the commodities trader Glencore and miner Xstrata, which looks all but dead, won new opposition when the activist investor Knight Vinke became the first to call for a shake-up of the Xstrata board if a deal did not proceed.

The fund, which owns 0.5 per cent of Xstrata (up 51.2p to 952.2p), reiterated its opposition to the current deal on the table. The statement came after 12 per cent shareholder Qatar Holdings confirmed it will vote against the merger next week. Glencore topped the leaderboard and advanced 27.6p to 385.1p, with some analysts still keen on the stocks even if the inevitable happens and the deal gets buried.

Moving to the mid caps, the miner New World Resources perked up after reaching a new year low the previous day. The stock edged up 2p to 270.9p, accompanied by a rumour that it was in talks to buy a coal-burning plant called Detmarovice from the Czech electricity company CEZ. CEZ is selling assets to appease regulators.

Meanwhile Aim-listed Beowulf Mining (not to be confused with California's thrash metal band Beowülf) revealed that its losses widened in the six months to July to £386,955. But good news of discoveries of some high-grade iron at Kallak North in Sweden sent its shares up 0.25p to 9.75p.

Cape's chairman, Tim Eggar, a former Energy minister, piled into his own company and snapped up another 12,000 shares at 229p. The energy services company was up for the second day running, following its half-year results on Thursday. The shares spurted up another 12.4p to 242.4p.

The former Yell Group, now strangely called Hibu, got a waiver on debt conditions from its lenders as part of its ongoing restructuring and its shares moved up just 0.2p to 1.2p.

The serviced office group Regus has been on a good run since it posted a 133 per cent pre-tax profits rise on Wednesday. Its shares charged up 6.6p to 104.1p yesterday.

The small-cap back-office outsourcing firm XChanging was also in favour. It has risen steadily since the beginning of the month, when it posted impressive first half results, and it gained another 5p to 115p yesterday.