Thin trade as City waits for Clarke's monthly meeting

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The Independent Online
Investors were largely sidelined ahead of tomorrow's monthly meeting between the Chancellor, Ken Clarke, and Governor of the Bank of England Eddie George, and the index of leading 100 shares traded in a narrow 10- point range, closing 5.5 points higher at 3978.8 in thin trade.

With little else to distract them, traders' attention predictably turned to football and Newcastle United's audacious pounds 15m swoop for Blackburn Rovers and England striker Alan Shearer.

The deal, a world record transfer fee, could have important implications for Newcastle's plans to seek a stock market listing, possibly by the end of this year, which could value the club at pounds 160m.

The City seemed split about the impact of Shearer's move on the flotation. Some analysts reckoned the signing would be make it easier for the club to raise money from institutional investors to fund the cost of building a larger stadium across the Tyne. The far riskier investment in Shearer, the argument goes, is best left to majority shareholder and Newcastle chairman Sir John Hall.

Others were less sure. "Newcastle are paying pounds 3m a year plus a salary for a player who will be worthless in five years," said analyst Paul Wedge at Collins Stewart. "It will mean Newcastle reporting a massive loss this year. I don't know how you can say that is a good deal."

News of Shearer's decision had little impact on Manchester United, which claimed its pounds 12m bid for Shearer was blocked by the Blackburn board. Shares in the Old Trafford club, who remain warm favourites to retain their Premier League title, added 3p to 431p.

Elsewhere in the leisure world, the stock market toasted confirmation that brewer Bass was in talks with food and drinks group Allied Domecq about buying a 50 per cent stake in Carlsberg-Tetley, the Anglo-Danish brewing business. More news about the pounds 200m deal, which would restore Bass as Britain's biggest beer maker, is expected on Thursday. Bass put on 4p to 781, while Allied Domecq ended 6p higher at 429p , making it the third-best Footsie performer of the day.

More fun should be had this week if Whitbread, up 2p at 689p, unveils plans to expand its themed restaurant activities with a bid for Pelican, unchanged at 145p.

Top slot among the blue chips went United News & Media, which climbed 11p to 649p on hopes that the company would carry off regional newspaper publisher Westminster Press from Pearson. United has been involved in talks to buy exhibitions group Blenheim, but the lack of any further bid developments sent the latter 5p lower at 393p.

Several television stocks attracted brokers' buy notes. NatWest upgraded its recommendation on Scottish TV from hold to add on the basis that the acquisition of Caledonian Publishing will materially enhance earnings. NatWest says the deal will create a powerful Scottish multi-media group and act as useful hedge against any potential revenue damage from Channel Five, which is due to go on air next year. Scottish rose 9p to 662.

Meanwhile Border Television was the subject of a "strong buy" note from Greig Middleton. Stripping out Border's cash and the value of wholly-owned subsidiary Century Radio, the broker reckons the shares - unchanged yesterday at 269p - stand on a prospective p/e ratio of just 13, a very large discount to the rest of the sector

Epic Multimedia continued its remarkable run after announcing a major distribution deal for an action adventure game called Endgame with GTE , a world-wide publisher of digital entertainment. GTE will pay advances of about $1m to complete production of the Endgame title, as well as potential further royalties on future sales. AIM-listed Epic jumped 6p to 90p after 100p.

Shares in the remaining regional electricity companies continued to spark interest. Reports that East Midlands will this week confirm a pounds 1.4bn approach from a US suitor, possibly Houston Industries, gave the shares an added buzz. They closed 28p ahead at 608p, valuing East Midlands at pounds 1.15bn. Also in demand was Yorkshire Electricity, 11p up at 683p.

The decision on Friday by Psion, maker of the electronic personal organiser, to withdraw its 200p a share bid for consumer electronics group Amstrad continued to have a negative impact. Amstrad fell 6p to 154p while Psion was 20p weaker at 403p.

Printed circuit board manufacturer Kode International slid 16p to 94p after a 68 per cent setback at the half-way mark.