Talk of Hanson bids livens up an ageing conglomerate

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Hanson, the conglomerate which has admitted it is beyond its sell- by date, was the best performing blue chip, gaining 8.25p to 190.25p in heavy trading. Talk that it will not be allowed to indulge in the break- up it planned prompted the excitement.

The ageing has-been of the once fashionable conglomerates intends to split itself into four, a move seen as signalling the end of the Hanson style of development.

But after the initial euphoria Hanson shares reacted badly to the split. At one time they were down to 180p, having touched 212p on the break-up statement.

Talk of special dividends had little impact and with American investors determinedly selling the stock the demerger was branded a failure.

But what if some of the bits failed to survive until the day of reckoning? Yesterday the stock market was captivated by two rumours - the tobacco and chemical sides would be sold before the break-up could take place.

The hot stories were that BAT Industries was about to put in a bid for the tobacco side, the old Imperial Group, and that a US operation wanted the chemical business, which is due to be listed in New York.

The sudden departure of Imps chief executive Ronald Fulford to make himself available to run RJR Nabisco has created a management hiatus at the time Imps should be preparing to woo the City. His move is seen as leaving the way clear for a BAT Industries strike. BAT could regard the absorption of Imps as part of its own grand break-up plan - financial services and tobacco.

But the sale of the chemical side to an unidentified US group was the stronger of the two stories.

If Hanson is in receipt of tempting offers it could put a different complexion on the much criticised break-up. After all, any chemical and tobacco sales would surely be well above the price of any demerger, perhaps more than pounds 6.5bn.

With Hanson capitalised at less than pounds 10bn the remaining elements would suddenly look much more attractive.

The Hanson stories occurred on a day Imperial Chemical Industries and its former drugs side, Zeneca, had resounding runs. ICI, once the victim of Hanson attention, rose 25p to 857p on results, and Zeneca, partly on unsuspected benefits from its seeds deal, gained 24p to 1,266p.

Two other demerger groups, British Gas and Thorn EMI, had mixed sessions. Gas, clouded by another poor profits performance, fell 3.5p to 236.5p and Thorn rose 10p to 1,633p.

The rest of the market enjoyed a firm session but was again left in the shade by New York. The FT-SE 100 index gained 14.4 points to 3,740 with the supporting index 15.7 better at 4,197.7, just 2.2 from its high.

MAI, in busy trading, was one of the most active shares, gaining 34p on hopes of a Carlton Communications bid and then relapsing 17p to 419p when Carlton said it did not intend to mount a bid.

United News & Media, MAI's intended victim, gained 12p to 653p and Carlton swung between a 22p gain and fall, ending 7p higher at 1,013p. Mirror Group Newspapers gained 3p to 224p.

Nationwide Building Society's intervention in the mortgages war left banks friendless. Abbey National was lowered 6p to 586p and Barclays 7p to 792p. But some builders moved ahead.

Some of the old takeover favourites more than held their own. Allied Domecq, on vague talk of a leverage bid, rose 4p to 529p and Standard Chartered added a few pence to 605p.

Airtours, the holidays group, jumped 20p to 450p on the US Carnival deal; Rank Organisation added 15.5p to 479.5 following results.

Kwik Save, the food discounter, fell 13p to 475p after James Capel cut its forecast from pounds 110m to pounds 100m.

National Power and PowerGen remained strong as NatWest Securities joined Capel in supporting the shares.

Cemetone, the chemical group which is thought to be up for sale, held at 28p as Strand Associates lifted its stake to 6.9 per cent.

Pan Andean, seeking oil in Bolivia, held at 39p. It confirmed institutional interest with one million shares placed with clients of Rowan Dartington, the stockbroker, at 32.75p.

Engineer, the 600 group, gained 4.5p to 189p, a 12-month high, on speculative interest and Pentland, the shoe group, slipped 5p to 109p. The shares were 145p in the summer. Year's figures are due next month.

TAKING STOCK

IES, the security equipment group, has shelved plans to join AIM. The appearance of managing director RW Ricks on a US black list is behind the postponement. Americans are not allowed to deal with anyone on the list, put together by the US Treasury. Attempts are being made to get Mr Ricks removed. IES, which has made dramatic headway, intends to remain on the Ofex market but wants to join AIM "as soon as possible". On Ofex its shares fell 30p to 240p.

rHarmony, the former pubs group now deep into property, gained 0.5p to 4.25p. Joseph Lewis, the Bahamas-based investor, is busy stake building and others thought to be interested include the Perloff family. The group recently called off a reverse takeover of Galliard Homes.

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