Swiss interest turns the takeover spotlight on Zeneca

MARKET REPORT
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You can't keep a good takeover rumour down. After a relatively quiet run, Zeneca, the drugs group, was rushed into the bid ward, gaining 28p to 1,388p.

The shares have risen 59p in two trading days, largely on hopes Roche, the Swiss group, will swoop.

Zeneca was engulfed in takeover excitement early last month when two Swiss groups, Sandoz and Ciba Ceigy, announced merger plans. The get together was seen as increasing pressure on Zeneca to link with another drugs group; in a frenzy of activity its shares touched 1,402p.

With an impressive array of drugs coming through the group is seen as a highly desirable property. Indeed Glaxo Wellcome, which has admitted it needs to buy to keep up its momentum, was at one time seen as a possible bidder.

But the focus has moved to Roche, said to be decidedly miffed at its exclusion from the Swiss alliance.

On Friday, when Zeneca was in demand, takeover interest was masked by the announcement the US Food and Drug Administration wanted more information about one of its potential blockbusters, an oral asthma treatment called Accolate. With the drug delayed by, perhaps, only six months many observers saw the Accolate announcement as a promising development.

Thorn EMI was another share in the limelight. But at least the Thorn excitement was a little different to the unadorned, run-of-the-mill bid rumour.

The 19p gain to 1,703p was based on the suggestion the heralded demerger of the music and rental sides would not go ahead - because Thorn had received such an attractive offer from a US group for the music division that it had no option but accept; it intended to hand the proceeds to shareholders in the shape of a special dividend.

US influences were also at work at Cadbury Schweppes, the confectionery and soft drinks giant. The shares followed Friday's 15p decline with a further 11p fall to 490p.

They have been unsettled by the decision of a US bottler, in which Coca- Cola has a significant minority stake, to stop distributing some minor brands owned by Cadbury's US subsidiary, Dr Pepper.

There are fears Cadbury will not obtain new bottlers before the summer selling season.

The rest of the stock market turned on a firm display with the FT-SE 100 index climbing 18.7 points to 3,718.4 in moderate trading. Dividend payments stripped 7.5 points from the calculation. Gains in the Government stocks market helped sentiment.

Waters were ruffled by Government plans to increase competition and Thames fell 2.5p to 572p and United Utilities 9p to 609p.

BT gained 13p to 382.5p and Cable and Wireless 6p to 538p as the merger talks dragged on and the market continued to bank on the deal being factored by Cable making a reverse bid for BT.

Orange rose 4p to 225.5p. Private investors start dealing in the shares today. It has been difficult for them to trade because the issue was scaled back and they had not been notified of their exact allocation when institutional dealings commenced last week.

Credit Lyonnaise Laing is issuing a covered warrant on Orange. Footsie tracking funds should, therefore, be able to acquire their required exposure to the share ahead of the company's elevation to Footsie, likely in June. Vodafone, celebrated reaching three million subscribers, a 35 per cent increase, by ringing a 6.5p advance to 249p.

Reuters, the information group, added 13p to 724p as a signalled trading statement was read as heralding the foreshadowed share buy-back.

BTR improved 6.5p to 321.5p on NatWest Securities support and RTZ managed a 5p gain to 954p following a Barclays de Zoete Wedd recommendation.

Hambros, the merchant bank, added 9p to 249p as takeover talk resurfaced and Applied Holographics rose 8p to 133p on suggestions of a De La Rue strike.

Some of the shares badly mauled in the BSE disaster rallied, with Sims Food up 3p to 24p and Whitchurch 3p at 42p.

African Lakes, which has run into losses and is seeking finance, was suspended but not before the shares fell 19p to 44p. There was no time for dealings. The fall represented a hasty mark down between the results and the suspension.

JD Wetherspoon, the pubs chain, gained another 5p to 880p as Janus Capital, the US group, lifted its interest to 18.57 per cent, presumably as a result of last week's share placing.

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