Takeover story sets Rank shares soaring

Market Report

THERE IS nothing like a hostile takeover story to spice up a dull summer day. Better still if it involves one of the chronic underperformers of recent times. Step forward Rank, the Hard Rock Cafe to bingo group.

The Independent's revelation that the troubled outfit is being circled by venture capital funds gave Footsie's flagging drive a bit of a Viagra treatment. The shares, a pathologic under-achiever in recent times, put on 13.8 per cent to end at 337p, at the top the blue-chip board.

Unfortunately, Rank's soaring run could do little against the powerful bearish winds coming from overseas, which swept Footsie away in the afternoon. A negative opening on Wall Street and worries about Japan proved the leading index's undoing, playing a major part in the 73.7 point closing loss to 5837.0 points.

The FTSE 250 and the small cap benefited from their insular nature and had a better day than their bigger brother. The 250 finished just 2.7 points off at 5482.7, while the small cap managed a 5.2 point rise to 2472.5.

Among blue chips, the banks were once again under the spotlight. A pounds 400m pension misselling provision at Lloyds TSB overshadowed decent results and sent the shares spiralling down. They finished 67p off to 834p.

Lloyds has got Sets to thank for not topping the Footsie worst performers' list. A couple of rogue deals on the automated order book sent the engineer Smiths Industries tumbling minutes before the bell. Two trades at 711p one minute before closing, after the stock had been coasting along at 753p for most of the day, accounted for a 9.2 per cent collapse. The final recorded price was 711p.

Other banks ignored Sets' vagaries and focused on Lloyds' woes. Abbey National lost 41p to 1,141p, Halifax was 7p lower at 723p, Bank of Scotland was 34p off to 370p, while NatWest, which reports figures on Tuesday, was down 65p to 1,060. The bank said yesterday it was selling its car- leasing business to joint venture partner Lex Services.

The earnings-enhancing deal and a roaring set of results helped Lex, the rent-a-car group, to motor ahead 17p to 511.5p.

Cellular phone operators were upwardly mobile after Merrill set a near- term target price of 1,050p for Orange. The shares took a giant leap towards the target, rising 47.5p to 743p.

Vodafone remained connected to its rival and rose 20p in sympathy. Securicor, part-owner of Cellnet, was close by with a 13p rise to 558p.

Albright & Wilson, the chemicals group, found the right mix of takeover speculation and a positive note from Williams de Broe. The shares topped the FTSE 250 risers' list after a 11.4 per cent gain to 121.5p. They were challenged for top spot by Arcadia, the clothes shop chain, which put on a 5.3 per cent rise to 361.5, after Panmure Gordon upgraded its recommendation and slapped a 385p price target on the stock.

Support services groups hit rock-bottom after a bearish trading statement from Business Post Group, whose shares fell 65p to 84.5p. Rival Danka shed more than 17 per cent to 117.5p, as pessimism spread through the sector.

Torotrak, the engineer which specialises in inventing new hi-tech equipment completed a pretty dismal maiden week on the market by losing 16.5p to 262.5p. It has lost 27.5p since it was spun off from BTG at the beginning of the week with a 300p price.

Torotrak's boffins are probably thinking of a device to transform the company into Fieldens. Shares in the AIM-listed agricultural company more than doubled to 103.5p, as the market could not contain its excitement at Thursday's news that two former Hanson directors had taken control of the group.

Vanguard Medica was in demand, after the pharmaceutical company announced it was close to a deal with a drug giant to develop its anti-migraine drug. A recommendation from the Investors Chronicle also provided an helping hand. The shares leapt 52.5p to 237.5p.

No such luck or Geo Interactive. The small IT company admitted that first- half revenues would be lower than expected because of the delayed shipment of some of its products, and dealers took fright.

The stock shed 45 per cent of its value to 62.5p. Similar grim story for the engineer Loades. A plunge into loss at the halfway stage and the shares soon followed, losing 170p to 325p.

SEAQ VOLUME: 824.9m

SEAQ TRADES: 72,699

GILTS INDEX: n/a

SHARES IN Syence Skin Care, a company which specialises in anti- ageing products, ended the day unchanged at 10.5p after reporting a pounds 77,000 loss for the year. The group, listed on Ofex, hit the headlines when it clashed with the BBC over the allegations made on one of its anti-wrinkle products in a Watchdog programme. Syence won an apology and damages, but said at yesterday's results announcement that the incident had "dampened euphoria" over its products.

WIGGINS GROUP firmed 0.5p to 14p yesterday after the construction group said it had been selected as prefferred bidder for Manston airport. The RAF airfield, which boasts a runaway as long as Heathrow's, is due to be transformed into London's fourth civilian airport under the grand name of Kent International Airport.

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