Speculators plump for Ladbroke as a stocking-filler

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The Independent Online
Stock market reporter of the year

Speculators, wondering whether any takeover presents were still tucked away, again alighted on Ladbroke, the betting and hotel group, as the market went through the motions of completing a half-day's pre- Christmas trading.

In a record-breaking year for takeovers - worth pounds 70bn at the last count - the temptation to find another winner enlivened what, by tradition, is an uneventful session.

Ladbroke has been a late runner in the market's takeover stakes. It came to the fore early this month when rumours flowed that Bass, the brewing and hotel giant, was preparing to strike.

Bass is still in the frame but it is another brewer, Whitbread, that has taken up the running. It splashed out pounds 180m in August for l6 UK Marriott Hotels and is thought to be anxious to increase its hotel portfolio.

Ladbroke, through its Hilton chain, would provide an international spread, something dear to the heart of any ambitious hotelier. Whitbread could, however, run into problems reconciling the Marriott and Hilton set-ups.

Market punters are betting on Whitbread being unable to resist the opportunity of becoming a powerful international force and overcoming any branding difficulties.

With the market chatter revolving around Ladbroke's Hilton connections there has been little gossip about its betting operations. However, Whitbread's high street presence, Pizza Hut and Threshers, could indicate it would be happy to be a bookie.

The Ladbroke rumour has been good for the group's shares. Their recent strength kept them in the FT-SE 100 index. They recovered an early fall yesterday to close 4p higher at 152p, capitalising the company at pounds 1.77bn. A warning that year's profits would be lower had driven them to 123p before the rumour mill came to their rescue.

Bass rose 18p to 703p and Whitbread 4p to 664p.

The rest of the market put on a festive display with Footsie finishing with a 25-point flourish at 3,658.3. Hopes continue that it will stretch beyond its current peak, 3,680.4, next week.

Talk of a share buy-back brightened PowerGen, up 10p at 534p. British Aerospace, 6p higher at 785p, remained firm on Orange flotation prospects and talk of a GEC assault. GEC gained 4.5p to 343p.

British Gas slipped 1.5p to 256p. The controversial chief executive, Cedric Brown, through dividend reinvestment, has nudged up his shareholding to 31,691 shares.

Royal Bank of Scotland improved 5p to 573p. It has increased its influence in Banco Santander to 2.4 per cent. The Spanish bank has 9.89 per cent of Royal Bank.

Geest, on its banana windfall, jumped 39p to 192p and Hillsdown managed a 6p advance to 166p.

BTR shaded to 317.5p; Salomon Brothers completed an 8.68 million trade at 316p.

Action continued among the bio-babes. KS Biomedix, raising pounds 3.82m through a placing and open offer at 90p, rose a further 22p to 130p. Electrophoretics put on 20p to 172p after linking with a Ministry of Agriculture agency to research diagnosis of BSE.

Hartons, the plastics group, firmed to 8.25p as Schuttersveld made a mandatory offer at 8.5p. The Dutch group picked up most of the shares on offer in a cash-raising exercise, lifting its stake to 53.1 per cent.

Crown Products, the games group that returned from suspension on Wednesday after putting through two acquisitions, said it has raised pounds 100,000 by issuing shares at 50p. The price stuck at 53p.

OIS International Inspection held at 25p after rejecting the Abbot offer; Bruntcliffe Aggregates drew strength from Redland's bid for Ennemix, gaining 3p to 22p. Raglan Property, seeking authority to indulge in a share buy-back, gained 2.5p to 20p. Lifehomes Assured Tenancies, a former Business Expansion Scheme residential property group, jumped 10p to 95p following the agreed 100p cash offer from Cosmopolitan Trade Ventures.

Reunion Mining suffered from a poorly received launch, falling 3p to 66p against Thursday's 80p opening.

Pex, a textile group, slipped 0.5p to 8.5p as the signalled pounds 2.5m cash- raising exercise was mounted. Uniwear, a Belgian group run by Italian aristocrat Andrea Cattaneo Della Volta, is pumping pounds 2m into the business and could end up with 44.4 per cent. Shares are being sold at 4.375p.

King & Shaxson, the discount house owning stockbrokers Greig Middleton and Allied Provincial, held at 141p.

TAKING STOCK

r High-flying BTG, the old British Technology Group which came to market in July at 225p, could reach 1,500p in a year's time, Dr Erling Refsum of Yamaichi believes. The shares are 1,025p. With a portfolio of 9,000 patents relating to 1,300 inventions which have so far generated 470 licences, BTG is about "to enter a decade of dramatically increasing cash flow and profitability" . Adjusting for obvious risks involved in the group's spread of developments, Dr Refsum reckons the underlying market capitalisation could be pounds 320m or even an astonishing pounds 2.8bn. Current value is pounds 180m.

r Cairn Energy raised pounds 5m placing shares through Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull. The cash will go towards developing its new Bangladesh field and other projects. The shares are 117p.

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