Talk of impending action at Trafs captivates investors

MARKET REPORT
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Rumours of action at Trafalgar House, the hard-pressed engineering, property and shipping group that is dominated by the Keswick family of Hong Kong, are captivating the stock market.

In busy trading, Seaq put volume at 28.7 million, the shares moved ahead 2p to 35.5p, highest since October.

Few, if any, believe the reason for the activity is a pounds 500m contract, announced yesterday, Trafalgar won to build a steel plant in Thailand.

With the group's poor record the market does not expect rich rewards from Traf's latest Far Eastern deal. In its last year it lost pounds 320.8m and is keen to cut back on its spread of operations. It is selling its building arm and many expect the Cunard passenger fleet to be off-loaded.

Traf's plight could attract a predator. The feeling in the market is that the Keswicks, through Hong Kong Land, which has 25.6 per cent, could be tempted to increase their stake, even going as far as bidding for full control. The group's current capitalisation is only pounds 383m. Another suggestion is HKL will pull in a partner to help restore the once high-flying group.

The rest of the market made a half-hearted response to New York's record breaking run, gaining 21 points to 3,747.6. Footsie is now 33.7 below its peak, hit last week. During this uninspiring run the Dow Jones Average has recorded six new highs.

The gap between the two markets is yawning wider and wider, underlining, at least for the time being, the force of the decoupling.

Reuters, the information group, was the best performing blue chip, gaining 31p to 675p following its results and promises that it intends to hand some of its cash hoard to shareholders, probably through a share buy back.

But figures from British Petroleum lowered the shares 8.5p to 536.5p; Shell, reporting tomorrow, gained 13.5p to 881p.

Storehouse rose 8p to 305p. It is thought to be on the verge of buying Children's World from Boots. Up to pounds 50m could be involved.

Supermarkets were cautious on a sneaking suspicion Tesco is about to launch a new initiative in the price war. Argyll, despite a confident trading statement, slipped 4p to 316p; J Sainsbury fell 3p to 382p and Tesco 1.5p to 280.5p.

Sun Alliance, the insurance group, felt the heat of speculation, falling 18p at one time. It was hit by stories its link with Chubb, the US giant, would end over the next three years. When Sun said the Chubb pact was only being scaled down the shares recovered to 362p, off 6p.

Chubb has 3 per cent of Sun which has 5 per cent of the US group. Last month Sun's long standing relationship with the Halifax Building Society ended.

Rexam, the packaging group, overcame Kleinwort Benson caution. The shares added 14p to 374p on recovery hopes and suspected buying by Mercury Asset Management which already has more than 5 per cent.

Cairn Energy jumped 27p to 224p after producing another encouraging bulletin on its Bangladesh venture. The shares were 172p ahead of Friday's statement of a strike. Burmah Castrol, up 28p to 1,064p, continued to reflect Merrill Lynch support.

Acorn Computer's link with Apple lifted the shares 13p to 218p and Superscape VR's deal for IBM to market its virtual reality software, pushed the shares 75p higher to 539p.

Full Circle Industries, formerly Atreus, improved 2.5p to 22.5p as Bill Rooney, the chairman who used to run Spring Ram, purchased 250,000 shares, lifting his stake to 21.26 per cent. Dean Corporation, the property services group, held at 13p. Its housebuilding arm has won contracts worth nearly pounds 2m.

Applied Holographics moved ahead 10p to 133p on takeover chatter and on Ofex, IES, the security systems group moving to AIM soon, jumped 70p to 810p. The shares were 375p at the start of the year.

Danka Business Systems slipped 8p to 695p. It has raised $200m by placing shares at around 683p.

European Motor Holdings' profit warning put garage shares into reverse. EMH lost 18p to 82p; Cowie 5p to 305p and Evans Halshaw 10p to 313p.

Some of the bio-babes perked up with Peptide Therapeutic 15p higher at 216p and Cantab Pharmaceuticals 30p firmer at 500p.

But Tepnel Life Sciences continued to feel the impact of directors' caution. Their statement that they knew of no reason for the strength of the shares cut another 11p, to 59p, from the price.

TAKING STOCK

Shire Pharmaceuticals seems set for a healthy stock market debut tomorrow.

The shares were placed at 175p by stockbroker Panmure Gordon and there is talk that first-time trading could take them above 200p.

The company is in the late stage of developing a drug for Alzheimer which will be licensed to US health giant, Johnson & Johnson.

Shire has a turnover of pounds 14m and, unlike so many other bio-babes where profits are a distant possibility, is already on the verge of moving into the black.

Edinburgh Fund Managers has emerged as the favourite to buy Dunedin, the fund manager controlled by Bank of Scotland.

A statement is expected in the next few days. EFM held at 716p and Bank of Scotland shaded to 287.5p.

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