Signet rebels lift stake as another showdown looms

Rebel shareholders are preparing for another showdown at Signet, the jewellery retailer tarnished by three years of heavy losses.

Julian Treger and Brian Myerson, who are achieving an enviable reputation for making life difficult in the boardrooms of underperforming companies, have lifted their shareholding to 20.44 per cent of the votes. They have picked up another 5.7 million shares through the Parcon Managers investment group.

Signet shares, almost 400p eight years ago, shaded 0.25p to 13.5p. They have been described as the market's version of the National Lottery.

The jewellery build-up occurred as another Treger/Myerson target, Scholl, the footwear group, fixed 24 October for its confrontation when the duo will seek to sack three non executive directors. The rebels attempted unsuccessfully in May to push through a Signet break up but were outvoted at a shareholders' meeting. At the lst Signet annual meeting they were conspicuous by their lack of action. But the share build-up signals that they plan to call another special meeting. And they intend to be in a more powerful position.

The rest of the stock market had a moderately cheerful session with a firm New York offering stability and the utilities rallying after Monday's "windfall" tax alarms.

Trading was thin with most big investors waiting to see whether American interest rates would be lowered.

There were, however, suggestions of pent up demand with talk of unsatisfied institutional interest. "They want to deal in size but not at silly prices", said one dealer.

Asda, the supermarket chain, added 2p to 105p as Credit Lyonnais Laing produced a buy recommendation and Siebe, the engineer, recovered 18p to 733p with the recent Henderson Crosthwaite presentation still attracting attention.

Bass frothed up 7p to 648p on Lehman Brothers interest and BT added 2p to 399.5p as Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull and ABN Amro Hoare Govett were positive.

Glaxo Wellcome marched 18p higher to 759p on the indicated success, presented at a conference in San Francisco, of the Aids drug cocktail and US approval for its Flovent asthma treatment. SmithKline Beecham remained firm on investment presentations and many of the biotech babes made renewed headway. Fisons firmed to 257p with the suspicion growing that Rhone-Poulenc Rorer will be persuaded to increase its offer. WH Smith fell 5p to 361p with its cut price books push prompting worries of squeezed margins. In busy trading Laura Ashley edged forward 3p to 120p. Enterprise Oil was another to notch a high volume figure with two deals on Monday belatedly recorded.

Trading caution took its inevitable toll. Brent International retreated 21p to 91p and Lamont, a textile group, fell 38p to 237p. But House of Fraser, the department store chain, shrugged off losses, gaining 6p to 150p.

Takeover rumours continued to swirl around Royal Insurance, up 8p to 363p. A Continental strike is the popular theme. Expansion in New Zealand lifted Sun Alliance 8p to 369p.

Quayle Munro, a Scottish financial group, jumped 32p to 185p. A modest profits advance was accompanied by a year's dividend of 9.5p against 6p. A return to profits helped fashion group Alexon 6p higher to 47p. Dobson Park, the mining equipment group, rose 2p to 125p as hostile bidder Harnischfeger said it reserved the right to increase its terms. The US group has offered 110p a share.

Telspec, a maker of telecommunications equipment, spurted 35p to 773p after it announced a pounds 23m contract, increasing its order book to pounds 70m. The shares were floated nearly two years at 160p.

More companies undertook the trek to AIM with Lawrence - animal health products and chemicals - trading at 208p and Park Estates, a Mersey property group, at 210p. VDC, which distributes veterinary products, is due to appear today and Zergo specialising in information security, is due on Friday.

Aromascan rose 9p to 92p on an upbeat trading statement and a Japanese licensing deal, worth at least pounds 3.7m over five years. Doeflex, the chemical group, gained a further 5p to 205p on results. Enviromed's sad decline continued. The healthcare group, which called off take over talks, fell 2p to a 23p low. The shares were floated at 110p two years ago.

Lionheart, a decorating and household products business, lost 0.5p to 2.5p as it left its preference dividend unpaid.