Takeover rumours ripple through the water sector

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
After a decidedly bleak start to May, shares managed to perk up with the inevitable "friendly" takeover speculation creating ripples of excitement.

Few believed the stories but such sensitive areas as insurances and waters were happy hunting grounds for brave souls, still smarting from their power setbacks and the failure of Lucas Industries to move into firm takeover territory.

General Accident led the insurance pack higher, up 21p to 651p in busy trading with talk of a continental bid once again going the rounds. Waters were encouraged by thoughts they had been so overshadowed by the electricities that, despite the Government's shilly-shallying, there was still room to bank on the appearance of more overseas predators.

It was enough to lift Severn Trent, drifting not far above its year's low, 16.5p to 584p and others by a few coppers.

The FT-SE 100 index, after five sessions in ragged retreat, managed a 21 points gain to 3,728.3, with lower interest rate hopes creating much of the interest.

New issues showed the stock market was very much alive and well or, if you are of a cautious disposition, riding for a dramatic fall.

The performance of little known Vanguard Medica, a Guildford-based pharmaceutical group which has a migraine treatment, provided the day's outstanding action.

Placed at 450p by Kleinwort Benson the shares were expected to enjoy a healthy premium - say 30p. They soared to 633p, closing at 628p, leaving Kleinwort exposed to claims it completely misjudged the market's appetite.

Vanguard was, as is so often the case these days, out of bounds to most small investors until dealings started.

With one stockbroker, thought to be Greig Middleton, said to be banking on the shares going to pounds 19, demand was understandably high.

Seaq printed turnover at 5.8 million shares with, it is understood, none of the company shareholders selling.

Maiden, the outdoor advertising group, had, by contrast, a disappointing session, although comfortably outstripping its flotation price. There were hopeful thoughts it could cross 300p from the 220p issue. In the event Maiden had to be content with a 274p peak, closing at 271p.

CA Coutts, producing promotional materials, closed at 118p from a 105p placing and Tom Hoskins, the remnants of the old Hoskins Brewery which used to have a USM presence, returned to quoted life at 56p. The Leicester- based brewery, once the subject of bitter shareholder struggles, now has 11 pubs and two discotheques.

Gold shares were unsettled by the latest political uncertainty in South Africa with Vaal Reefs, for example, off nearly pounds 3. Lonrho lost 2p to 188.5p.

Cautious trading statements took their toll. Telspec, an electronics equipment group, crashed 242p to 513p and Memory Corporation 37p to 133p. Eidos lost 35p to 823p on reports its video telephone launch had been delayed. VideoLogic improved 12.5p to 86p as Compaq said it intended to use its chips, developed with NEC, the Japanese group.

Granada, figures soon, gained 13p to 828p as NatWest Securities was said to have organised a switch out of Rank Organisation, down 6p at 533p.

Rolls-Royce lost an early gain to close 1p lower at 220p following the link between US giants General Electric and Pratt & Whitney to develop engines for a new generation of Boeing aircraft. There had been hopes Rolls would provide the engines but the US association could force the UK group into expensive engine development, costing perhaps pounds 1bn.

Better-than-expected figures lifted Shell 35.5p to 887p, helping British Petroleum 6.5p higher to 569p.

Forminster, a clothing group, slumped 37p to 58p following a profits warning. Late last year the company was busy buying in its shares at around 150p.

Bluebird, the toys group which acquired its own shares at near to 310p in March, fell a further 9p to 212p. Talk US sales have been disappointing is behind the retreat.

Regent Inns, the high flying managed pubs chain, greeted its five-for- one share split with a 10p gain to 1,045p.

Tepnel Life Sciences added 7p to 78p following its 95.97 per cent rights take up and encouraging noises lifted Proteus 9p to 91p.

Some of the market's walking wounded twitched. Surrey, a betting shop chain, improved 0.25p to 1p in brisk trading and Shoprite, once a significant discount retailer now confined to the Isle of Man, added 1.5p to 10.25p. In its heyday the shares hit 243p.

TAKING STOCK

Princedale, the marketing, plastic and shop display group where Sir Harry Solomon, former head of Hillsdown Holdings, is a significant player held at 36p. It has sold a solvent business for pounds 770,000.

The cash will go towards reducing debts. The group has been reshaped by Stephen Bennett and, despite unexciting profits last month, the shares are nudging their 12-month high.

Wyndeham Press, the printer being developed by Bryan Bedson, put on 10p to 212p. It is acquiring a web-offset printer for pounds 10.8m.

To help pay for the deal it is raising pounds 6.1m through a placing and open offer at 196p. Profits in the year ended last month should be pounds 4.9m against pounds 3.5m.

The shares were 31p five years ago.

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