Trouble brews for Allied Domecq as beer deal falters

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Shares of Allied Domecq, the drinks group, slithered to a new low on talk its attempts to extricate itself from brewing were encountering increasing difficulties.

The price lost 2p to 453p; it was 556p earlier this year and 664p two years ago.

Bass, the leading contender to buy Allied's 50 per cent stake in the Carlsberg Tetley brewing operation, also weakened - 5p to 802p, only 36p from the all-time high.

Allied has been hit by a series of mishaps. A few years ago it lost pounds 147m through foreign exchange bungling; it then took a position in the Mexican market just as the peso collapsed and has struggled with its brewing and spirit operations.

The market had been hoping it would execute a speedy sale of C-T and new chairman Sir Christopher Hogg would divide the group into two, retailing and spirits.

But, as the negotiations drag on and Whitehall takes an increasing interest in the brewing deal, Allied's shares are becoming increasingly friendless. They now yield 7.25 per cent.

It appears Whitehall is demanding Bass should reduce its pubs estate and undertake to sell breweries and some brands before agreeing the C- T takeover.

At least one hurdle has been cleared. It seems Bass has won over Carlsberg of Denmark which has 50 per cent of C-T. The Danes are prepared to exchange their half share for a stake in the brewing division Bass will create.

Bass is gearing for a round of corporate action. It will splash out around pounds 250m for C-T and could then move for William Hill, the betting chain owned by the stricken Brent Walker, or even strike out at Ladbroke, the betting and hotel group.

It is already relatively lightly borrowed. If it needs to top up its cash resources it could sell freeholds of some of its Holiday Inn hotels.

To add to the air of expectation there is talk Bass plans an investment presentation in the next few weeks.

The stock market managed to recover a little of its recent falls, gaining 16 points to 3,695.5 although the supporting FT-SE 250 index was again in ragged retreat.

If anything, shares underlined their growing independence from New York. As US shares turned red they held their gains. They have largely ignored New York for some time although there is no doubt a sharp American decline would have a savage impact.

By staging a modest rally Footsie managed to avoid the embarrassment of seven consecutive falls, a slide which would be regarded as a particularly sad omen.

Tomkins was the best performing blue chip, up 13p to 249p as its acquisition of the US Gates Corporation was cleared and it forecast profits of more than pounds 320m and a 9.95p year's dividend.

Grand Metropolitan continued to draw strength from hopes of corporate activity, up 6p at 425p and BSkyB helped by SBC Warburg support added 12p to 434p.

Shell rose 9p to 940p following a positive New York investment presentation. Lasmo experienced a late run, ending 1.5p higher at 177p with talk of a US strike going the rounds.

Costain was the day's main casualty, suspended at 39p after falling from 70p. Danka Business Systems crashed 195p to 490p after warning profits would be hit by expansion expenses and would not reach market expectations.

National Grid firmed to 171p as the second half of a tax efficient bed and breakfast deal, thought to be undertaken by Prudential Corporation, went through.

British Biotech, with a rights issue and more losses, was little changed at 2,375p; ABN Amro Hoare Govett has set a 3,200p target. Celsis edged ahead another 2p to 127p on Panmure Gordon support. The shares have risen from 116p since the stockbroker first pronounced. Negative comments from Hoare hit Smith & Nephew, 8.75p to 200.25p. Goldsborough Healthcare fell 5p to 171p as Cazenove and Collins Stewart raided the market for 9.1 per cent for hostile bidder Westminster Healthcare.

NFC motored 13p to 186p after chairman Sir Christopher Bland purchased 400,000 shares at 174p. He now has just over one million.

Securicor fell 14p to 273p; Cazenove was said to have placed a 500,000 line at 272p.

BICC lost 10p to 318p on worries about its insurance cover over a Heathrow tunnel collapse.

Solid State, a distributor of electronic components, closed at 90p against an 80p placing price and Sleepy Kids, the cartoon character group taking in Budgie the Helicopter, fell 3p to 21p - a 12-month low.

TAKING STOCK

Castle Mill International, which has had a torrid time, could be near to turning the corner. The loss-making clothing group's bankers have agreed to cut the company's debt from almost pounds 3m to pounds 850,000.

In the recent past CMI's trading profits have been overwhelmed by interest charges. With its debt burden reduced it could be near to strengthening its trading operations through acquisitions. The shares are 3.75p.

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