Thorn sparks renewed interest in takeover favourites

The excitement over Thorn EMI, which sent the shares spinning 140p higher to 1,843p, prompted stock market speculators to scamper after some other old takeover favourites.

Even United Biscuits, a perennial candidate, was taken down, dusted and pressed into service by investors seeking a likely target.

The Thorn adventure caught the market on the hop. After trading moderately higher the shares suddenly took off as punters piled in on stories of a deal today.

Sony of Japan was the favourite to pounce. Time Warner of the US and Seagram, the Canadian drinks giant with showbiz interests, were other names in the frame. Rumoured bid price was pounds 23.

The story Thorn would sell its music side, thereby removing the need for the demerger, continued to circulate and there was also talk of an assets exchange with Rank Organisation.

Rumours of Thorn action have circulated for a long time. It was after intensive market speculation that the group decided to demerge its music and rental operations. But the run-up to the split, due in June, has left it vulnerable to a bid. And with few Thorn shareholders likely to sell ahead of what should be a rewarding demerger the group is at the mercy of speculators.

Those who felt they had missed the Thorn boat were again happy to bank on Zeneca, another 15p up at 1,403p; Bank of Scotland (5p at 247.5p) and a number of insurance groups.

Some alighted on UB, 351p a year ago. The shares gained 7p to 241p. It has had a dreadful time and trading is likely to remain tough. UB looks a sitting duck for a bid but a buyer would inherit many problems.

Insurers were helped by analytical activity with Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull favouring General Accident, GRE and United Friendly and NatWest Securities picking Legal & General, up 6p to 692p. NatWest regards L&G as a buy up to 750p.

The sector is, however, prone to take overtalk. There are persistent stories of strikes with the likes of National Westminster Bank, as well as Continental insurers, said to be circling.

Metals group Johnson Matthey, which nearly merged with Cookson, was at one time up 6p on bid talk but closed only 1p higher at 586p.

BET, struggling to resist the Rentokil bid, was little changed at 204p. There were suggestions M&G was pressing the group to try to agree a deal with Rentokil.

BT and Cable & Wireless suffered a bout of nerves with BT off 7p at 375.5p and Cable 9p at 529p.

The FT-SE 100 index ended a mixed session 10.1 points higher at 3,728.5 with the supporting FT-SE 250 index stretching to another peak, up 21.8 to 4,348.7.

Option-trading lifted British Gas 7.5p to 235.5p and Rolls-Royce firmed to 217p on SBC Warburg support and a Japanese engine order.

Vodafone pushed ahead 6.5p to 255.5p still celebrating its 3 millionth subscriber. It was also helped by a fall in the cost of handsets. Orange, with Kleinwort Benson saying buy, recovered 8.5p to 234p.

BSkyB fell 13p to 438p with NatWest suggesting an pounds 80m downgrading would be needed if the satellite television group lost its Premiership TV rights. Ulster TV gave up 40p to 1,340p as Panmure Gordon cut its forecast.

Oils were firm as the crude price continued to move ahead Shell gained 7p to 847p.

T&N, the car components group, fell 4p to 168p; it has lost an asbestos damages appeal. Zotefoams, a chemical group, tumbled 60p to 279p following a profit warning.

Astec (BSR), the Hong Kong-based electrical group, gained 7p to 137.5p. Investment presentations by its near-50 per cent shareholder Emerson Electric sparked the interest. Persistent takeover hopes and strong trading have lifted the shares from an 8p low in 1991.

On the electricity pitch London managed the most powerful display, up 17p at 763p on vague talk of a bid.

Thames Water, up 2p at 574p, was mentioned as a possible predator.

Systems Integrated Research, an educational software group placed by Durlacher at 115p, closed at 128p. But Easynet, the Internet group which touched 130p on its flotation last week, moved 3p lower to 105p, just 5p below its issue price.

Magnum Power, providing continuous power for computers, improved 13p to 151p. It raised pounds 1.5m through a placing at 140p by Henry Cooke Lumsden. An upbeat trading statement accompanied the exercise.