Thames Water move on power industry rumoured

MARKET REPORT

Thames Water is thought to be near to plugging into the takeover excitement that has engulfed the regional electricity companies.

Rumours circulated that it was about to descend on London Electricity, although some wondered whether Seeboard could be the attraction.

Today Thames, the biggest water utility, is due to produce its interim figures. Around pounds 164m is likely, against pounds 150.9m.

Some observers believe that Thames may accompany what will be uninspiring results with a takeover splash.

It could be expected to offer around 1,025p for London Electricity against a 920p close, up 18p. The shares finished 17.5p below their peak.

But Thames may decide to wait until North West Water's controversial offer for the Norweb electricity supplier obtains Whitehall clearance. The all-clear is expected later this week.

Many of the advantages NWW expects to realise through Norweb could also apply to Thames and London Electricity, although putting the capital's water and power supply under one command would produce political uproar.

Cost savings could emerge through joint headquarters and the sharing of meter readings, billing and customer care.

Thames has not covered itself in glory with its diversification moves. Owning a strong performer like London Electricity would certainly add sparkle to its non-water operations. But any Thames strike could prompt a counter-strike with the lurking US utilities spurred into action.

Seeboard, the outsider, edged forward 3p to 519p and Thames firmed to 521p.

Away from the electrical sparks the stock market experienced a woundingly quiet session. Helped by New York, the FT-SE 100 index rose 12.1 points to 3,510 after touching 3,519.7. But turnover was miserably low for an allegedly normal day. To underline the lack of interest much of the activity was in penny stocks.

Black & Edgington, the marquee group which former Medeva man Ian Gowrie- Smith intends to turn into a drug power, attracted an 18.8 million turnover, with the price firming 0.25p to 5.75p.

Pacific Media held at 1p, with 12.3 million going through and Queensborough, a leisure group run by Kevin Leech (of ML Laboratories fame) stuck at 1.25p as nearly 11 million shares were printed.

The three companies are each thought to be near to clinching significant deals, with B&E's long-expected drugs move already behind schedule.

Among blue chips Sears, the retailing group, accounted for a near-12 million turnover, with talk of some chunky lines unplaced.

Trading levels have been indifferent for too long and anxiety is growing that the market will soon face another heavy round of redundancies.

Scholl, the footwear group which last week saw off a determined shareholder revolt, stepped forward 6p to 220p as rumours strengthened that French beauty group L'Oreal would team up with Gillette of the US to mount a bid.

L'Oreal refused to comment. It was suggested that the bidders would use the 15 per cent shareholding put together by the defeated rebels as a platform for a strike.

Standard Chartered, the banking group, was another to reflect takeover hopes and, with the help of some favourable analyst comments, rose 10p to 510p. Reports of newspaper sales lifted United News & Media 5p to 516p.

Reuters, the information group, rose 19p to 576p, benefiting from a Merrill Lynch buy note and talk of an investment conference; GEC, which met Kleinwort Benson, firmed to 517p and Lucas Industries reached 187p ahead of a meeting with analysts today.

J Sainsbury, up 11.5p to 423.5p, was helped along by a Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull buy recommendation; results are due tomorrow. Kwik Save also won support from SGST ahead of Thursday's figures, gaining 21p to 700p.

Among insurers Britannic put on 24p to 714p, with bid hopes mingling with a buy recommendation. Legal & General put on 8p to 670p.

John Govett, the fund manager, fell 26p to 253p on the departure of one of its top-performing US fund managers. There are worries that the defection could hinder the sale of its fund management side. BCE, the computer games group, rose 2.5p to a 24.75p peak on talk of bid action and what was believed to be a stock shortage lifted.

Chubb, the security group, rose 13p to 330p.

Frost, the petrol retailer, advanced 12p to 223p on Credit Lyonnais Laing support and the all-clear for its LRG petrol.

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