Talk of Shell strike for PowerGen enlivens the gloom

MARKET REPORT

Shares have endured their rockiest week since the surprising autumnal rally started to give the stock market an unexpected glow. Footsie fell 30.6 to 3,948.5, bringing this week's decline to 73.9 points. It is the first time the index has dipped below 3,950 for more than a month.

The retreat has occurred against a background of a stock market which has lost its enthusiasm and is looking decidedly jaded and unadventurous. Trading has not been heavy but in such a lacklustre atmosphere it does not require much effort for sellers to get the upper hand.

Blue chips should have gained a little help from New York yesterday. A firm overnight performance was quickly shrugged off and a fluctuating afternoon display used as another excuse for further lethargy.

The US elections are being cited as a reason for inactivity and there is little doubt this month's Budget is beginning to bear down on sentiment. This week's interest rate increase is still an adverse influence despite talk in some quarter that such a move was needed to remove some of the nervousness from the market.

Government stocks gave ground, up to 75p, on stories a leading US investment house had advised selling, apparently because of next year's election.

But even in a veritable wilderness of investment demand it is always possible to get a good story surging. PowerGen provided the vehicle with rumours Shell will pounce on the pounds 3.5bn generator sending the shares 9p higher to 519p.

PG, like National Power, has had a breathtakingly dismal run and is no doubt due some light relief. UBS's much flagged gencos buy circular duly appeared and, it was claimed, generated a little US enthusiasm. NP ended 2p lower at 405p after touching 417.5p. The prospect of a power bid left Shell, already uneasy on the prospect of Iraqi oil flowing again, off 27.5p to 980p. Other electricities managed a few scattered gains on lingering take overhopes with waters trying to swim against the tide ahead of results.

On the merchant banking pitch Hambros again felt the uncomfortable tug of takeover speculation. An unidentified German bank was said to be about to strike. It was enough to lift the shares 7p to 254p.

Hambros is attempting to resist pressure from a Hong Kong fund manager, Regent Pacific, which has contented itself with buying 3 per cent of the equity but managed to make a great deal of noise.

The Far Eastern group is unimpressed with the merchant bank's profit display and is pressing for changes. Hambros is, however, recovering from last year's 44 per cent profits fall and a sharp recovery is expected this year with, perhaps, pounds 68m in sight and pounds 98m next year.

Whitbread, interim figures next week, gained 12.5p to 533.5p. It confirmed its interest in buying BrightReasons, the Pizzaland and Bella Pasta restaurant chains.

Communications shares basked in the excitement of the industry's first day of (almost) free-for-all ownership. Yorkshire Tyne Tees added another 15p to 1,282.5p and Flextech rose 17.5p to 632.5p. First-quarter figures and the hovering Murdoch cash-raising exercise lowered BSkyB 9.5p to 569p.

British Biotech edged ahead 2.5p to 229p ahead of the eagerly awaited update on its Marimastat cancer drug at a medical conference. Zeneca's decline, following its trading statement, continued with the shares down 20p at 1,652p. They were 1,750p before Tuesday's announcement.

In a buoyant travel sector Airtours climbed a further 29.5p to 682.5p on hopes the Monopolies and Mergers Investigation would not be too draconian. Inspirations rose 10p to 96.5p.

Newcomer Corporate Executive Search closed at 4.5p off a 3p placing price. Deep Sea Leisure, after a flat opening day, recovered 5p to 162.5p. The company runs the North Queensferry Aquarium, Scotland's third-largest tourist attraction, and is developing the Cheshire Oaks Aquarium, an pounds 11.7m venture near Manchester.

JD Wetherspoon, the pubs chain, moved to another peak, up 17.5p to 1,212.5p. American fund managers are keen on the shares and there was talk they had picked up about 25,000, at 1,208p.

Hawtin, the leisure clothing group, gained 4p to 54p. Once an aspiring merchant bank it was caught up in the 1970's secondary banking crisis and then, under the direction of the Dovey family, developed as a mini- conglomerate which is now deeply involved in leisure wear and a variety of leisure products.

TAKING STOCK

Reshaping of Carlisle from a property group into a healthcare business continues. With Deverok Pritchard, founder of nursing homes operator Takare, the guiding light and a big shareholder the company is thought to be near to completing a big deal. Mr Pritchard's campaign will be helped by Carlisle's latest property sale, pulling in nearly pounds 2.2m. The shares firmed to 12.25p.

Wedderburn, a property company, rose 1p to 11p as the former Suter stake, 26.3 per cent, was sold by Ascot Holdings. A reverse takeover deal seems likely.

Shares of Stanford Rook, developing a TB treatment, are a buy, say stockbroker Panmure Gordon. It believes the company should be valued at pounds 250m, not the present pounds 72m. The shares are 367.5p.

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