Swiss find Bluebird of happiness

MARKET REPORT

The FT-SE 100 index edged forward 4.8 points to 3,023.4 but the FT-SE 250 index slipped 1.7 to 3,414.4. Volume was 520.7 million shares with 20,762 deals recorded. Gilts eased.

The tantalising possibility that a takeover bid is being prepared for Bluebird, the toys group, has increased following more share sales by Fransad Investtissements & Gestion, a Swiss institutional investor.

In a series of deals the Swiss have cut their share holding from more than 18 per cent to 7.85 per cent. Most of the shares were placed with City institutions by SG Warburg. But more than a million were the subject of an agency cross at 240p. Their destination is unknown but some suggest a Hong Kong group, Playmate, would emerge as the eventual buyer.

In the past Bluebird has been seen as a target for US toy producers who have already mopped up much of the British toy industry. But Playmate has indicated European ambitions by buying 37 per cent of Ideal Loisirs, a French toy business that has enjoyed close links with Bluebird.

For the Swiss, Bluebird has been a scintillating investment. They started buying when the toy group was on its corporate knees. It is thought they picked up some shares at less than 10p. As the group slowly recovered they continued to buy with some of their shares going to Loisirs. At one time the continental duo had almost 30 per cent of Bluebird.

With the toy group's shares soaring the temptation to sell proved irresistible. Fransad and Loisirs unloaded shares. But their sales have not retarded the share price; yesterday it hit a 247p peak, up 3p. The group's market valuation is about £110m. Rumours about a Bluebird bid have circulated for months. There have been suggestions that Mattel, the US group, has approached Fransad. But the Swiss have shown reluctance to contemplate a "big bang" sale, preferring to trickle shares onto the market.

Torquil Norman, founder and chairman of the Polly Pocket and Mighty Max group who is in the US, sold shares last year and has just over a million left.

The latest continental sales occurred just ahead of Bluebird's figures, due next month. The market is looking for more than £19m which would compare with £9.8m last time.

The rest of the stock market managed modest progress, helped by New York. The FT-SE 100 index put on 4.8 points to 3,023.4. Currency and political worries continued to restrain enthusiasm and this week's round of cash- raising in the UK and US was another unsettling influence.

Ahead of today's £2bn Government stocks auction prices succumbed by up to half-a-point in nervous trading.

The latest round of profit statements was generally well received although CentreGold, a video games group, tumbled 37p to 60p after warning of half- time losses of about £3.6m.

Airtours and 1st Choice were ruffled by stories of increasing competition and margin pressure in the holidays industry. But Airtours, down 16p to 420p, has, however, let it be known recently that sales are ahead of last year. 1st Choice fell 6p to 107p.

Vodafone was the subject of a two-way pull with Warburg switching from hold to buy and Robert Fleming cutting its profit expectations and suggesting the shares should be sold. The price ended 2p higher at 184.5p.

Hoare Govett support lifted RTZ 9p to 730p and Allied Domecq 4p better to 497p.

Electricities had another subdued session although the generators continued to respond to the government share sale with National Power up 5p at 486p and PowerGen 12p at 515p.

Northern Foods slipped 2p to 208p. There was busy trading with talk of a line on offer at 210p. British Steel was another briskly traded, gaining 4.75p to 157.25p on talk that European steel prices will be forced higher.

Rank Organisation dipped 5p to 366p following an investment presentation.

Yorkshire Chemicals fell 9p to 346p as its results failed to offer the encouragement some had hoped. Hardy Oil & Gas, firm lately, slipped 3p to 158p. Recent deals have prompted Kleinwort Benson to lift its asset value estimate from 176p to 189p "with further potential, speculative additions of 81p".

Cable and Wireless improved 4p to 384p. It confirmed Japanese newspaper reports that it is seeking stakes in telephone groups associated with the Japanese telecommunications giant, Nippon. A statement is likely in the next few days. The Japanese say C&W will acquire interests of between 3 to 5 per cent in nine Nippon associates specialising in "handy phones", said to be the next generation of mobile phones.It is also said to be seeking a 25 per cent interest in an Indonesian communications group.

Reuters, the information agency, held at 437p. Henderson Crosthwaite rates the shares a buy. The stockbroker says it is a beneficiary of sterling's weakness against the mark. Profits this year are estimated to climb £75m to £585m.

BAT Industries shares remained subdued on the growing legal clamour. The shares fell 6p to 416p.

Continental Foods surged from 2.25p to 93p. But the gain was an illusion; the result of a share consolidation. In fact the shares surrendered ground. The consolidation is the latest move by chairman David Cicurel to transform the group into a forceful player in the food industry. Continental's main division is Red Mill, a UK and Dutch snack food maker.

Heavy trading in MFI, the flatpack furniture group, is attracting attention. The shares, at 115p, are around their 12-month low and at the price they were sold to investors in July 1992. Interim figures were disappointing and year's forecasts pulled back. But some wonder whether the average expectation of about £80m is still too high.

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