Takeover talk and rate hopes produce another record

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The Independent Online
Another day, another record. Inspired by takeover and lower interest rate hopes leading shares ended a remarkable week in ebullient form with the FT-SE 100 index up 16.1 points at 3,680.4. Except for a modest relapse on Budget day the index has made steady progress this week, gaining 56.4 points.

But the stock market is not quite such a happy place as the rip roaring index performance might suggest. Said one stockbroker: "98 per cent of this market is doing absolutely nothing; the other 2 per cent is going ballistic".

Certainly blue chips need interest rate cuts and at least one big takeover bid for support. The rates reduction should occur soon and, if the rumour mill was in form, the bid action should come early next week. GRE, the Guardian Royal Exchange insurance group, reasserted its position as the market's favourite victim.

The shares outperformed other blue chips, achieving a 22p gain to 292p in unusually busy trading. BAT Industries, facing increasing tobacco problems in the US, is regarded as the most likely to strike. The insurance group is seen as an ideal add-on to BAT's already extensive financial interests which include the Eagle Star insurance business. BAT shares were unchanged at 557.5p.

But a BAT strike is not the only story circulating. A defensive merger with Legal & General, also a rumoured target, is another continuing yarn; so is a get-together with the market's leading bank bid candidate, Standard Chartered. Suggestions the long rumoured Continental insurance bid is at last about to materialise lifted some other insurers, with Royal up 17p at 400p and General Accident 18p at 683p.

L&G was little changed at 694p; Standard, in a strong bank sector, rose a further 8p to 614p.

Other takeover favourites bounced higher, including Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Asda, the supermarket chain.

Vickers, the engineering group embracing Rolls-Royce cars, was another in the bid frame with talk of a Continental strike creating the action. The shares purred 7p to 278p.

The biotech babes were again high on drugs. British Biotech, on its cancer drug, was traded at 2,625p overnight and touched 2,150p in morning trading on hopes of US buying. But the Americans failed to arrive and the shares closed at 1,675p, up 127p. There are expectations the group will produce encouraging progress reports on another drug over the weekend.

Proteus, the drug designer, rose 35p to 144p, as it announced the first of its signalled deals, an income-producing licence agreement with SmithKline Beecham. Celltech, results on Wednesday, gained 53p to 602p and newcomer Peptide Therapeutics put on a further 13p to 251p.

MAID, the on-line information group which has just achieved a US listing, headed the hi-tech brigade, spurting 39p to 274p as it put its 100 million pages of business information on to the Internet.

CMG, a computer software group, made a bright start; placed at 290p, the shares reached 339p.

But it was not all one way traffic. BSkyB was at one time up 27p as buyers chased shares in a narrow market. They banked on US buying following the company's inclusion in the internationally followed Morgan Stanley Capital Index and further support from the Endsleigh League deal.

But then the Office of Fair Trading intervened, deciding to review the satellite television group's sports coverage, presumably sparked off by the Endsleigh deal, and its relationship with cable channels.

In often frantic trading the shares slumped 51p and then staged a modest rally, closing 5.5p down at 428.5p.

Coal Investments was another casualty, crashing 21p to 35p. The shares were 119p earlier this year. CI has had to fix up new loan terms with its bankers and is preparing a rights issue, said to be at around 10p.

De La Rue, the paper and security printing group, tumbled a further 17p to 643p. The shares have crashed from a high of 1,052p this year. The group issued another profit warning this week and analysts are continuing to make negative noises.

Hanson is another to lose its appeal. Its latest results prompted a round of downgradings, lowering the shares 10.5p to 185p, lowest for three years.

Pearson jumped 33p to 682p with a brace of big buyers appearing towards the close, and Grand Metropolitan slipped 3p to 439p. Its ESOP sold 51.9 million shares to SBC Warburg which, with Cazenove, placed 15.8 million at around 431p.