Market Report: Drug firms see healthy trading

INVESTORS continued to whet their appetite with shares in technology and second-line drug companies, pushing several to fresh highs.

Bullish statements by companies at a healthcare seminar hosted by Henry Cooke Lumsden, a regional broker, spilled on to the market.

Companies that made presentations included Tepnel Diagnostics, up 18p to 245p, Seton Healthcare, up 10p to 340p, and Haemocell, 1p firmer at 182p. There was an agency cross of 1 million Haemocell.

Proteus, which also made a presentation, was buffeted by some profit-taking. Half of the previous day's spurt was lost with the shares closing at 421p, down 11p.

Technology stocks, boosted recently by actual and rumoured software contracts, advanced further.

Gresham Telecomputing, believed to be close to securing several deals with companies like NCR and Dun & Bradstreet, hit another high with a 13p rise to 180p.

Quality Software, strong of late on contracts with a couple of high street retailers, surged 15p to 499p, Tadpole Technology gained 11p to 308p, Sage Group rose 10p to 597p, and Logica advanced 6p to 225p.

Volume trading in all second- and third-liners was again strong at 395 million, accounting for more than half of the day's total of 703 million.

Talk of a big bid persisted and Hanson was rumoured to be ready to make a strike.

More than 5,000 Hanson option contracts were traded, the vast majority of which were calls. Hanson's shares firmed 4p to 241.5p and 17 million were traded.

The list of rumoured Hanson bid targets is long, and includes United Biscuits, up 1p to 385p, and PowerGen, steady at 349p in a topsy-turvy session for the electric utilities.

Speculation that MB Caradon, ahead 3p to 300p, was close to making a bid also continued. Evered Bardon, the building materials group, is the favoured prey.

Some 1 million Evered shares were traded and the price rose 2p to 46p. Other rumoured candidates are Hepworth, up 9p to 354p, Heywood Williams, plus 4p to 272p, and Pilkington, 1p better at 131p.

Away from the gossip, the market was heartened by the easing of German interest rates. The FT-SE 100 index closed 11.5 points higher at 2,881.1, aided partially by a late flurry in the futures market.

Manchester United was a prominent gainer, climbing 9p to a record of 449p after Wednesday night's match had put the club close to winning its first championship for 26 years. A big bonus from winning the championship is the European Cup, reckoned to have yielded pounds 4m this year for Rangers, the Scottish champions, even though they failed to reach the final.

Kalon Group, the paint maker, climbed 9.5p to 163.5p after shareholders were told at the annual meeting that current trading had been buoyant. Manders, the rival which it tried unsuccessfully to take over last year, firmed 2p to 295p.

British Gas increased 8.5p to 311p following an analysts' meeting with Sir James McKinnon, head of the industry's regulator, Ofgas.

James Capel added the company to its buy list in the belief that Ofgas has backtracked on prices, meaning BG will be able to increase prices by nearer 10 per cent than in the previously prescribed 3-4 per cent band.

Etonbrook, unchanged at 79p, became enmeshed in controversy. The company announced that bid talks with Andrew Perloff, a 29.9 per cent shareholder in the property company, had ended. Mr Perloff, however, said he had not withdrawn from negotiations.

A lively start to dealings in Savage Group forced the maker of home improvement accessories to announce it had received a takeover approach. Discussions with the unnamed suitor are continuing. Shares in the USM-quoted company closed at 68p, up 19p and valuing it at nearly pounds 26m. Trading in the tightly held shares was steady at 220,000, and several delayed trades went through late in the day.

Philip Green, who was ousted as chairman and chief executive of Amber Day last year with a pounds 1.1m payoff, has severed his last link with the discount retailer. His holding of 9.25 million shares, 7.6 per cent, was sold yesterday. Shares in Amber, which on Wednesday announced interim profits of pounds 4.5m against losses of pounds 6.3m in the comparable period, climbed by 6p to a high for the year of 85p.

Regent Inns, the 34-strong pub chain, is obtaining a full listing via a placing and open offer to existing shareholders that will raise pounds 6.2m for the company. David Franks, managing director, used the proceeds from the sale of a pub in 1980 to buy Regent, the then-owner of six outlets. Shares are being issued through Greig Middleton at 135p, valuing the company at pounds 20m. Dealings start next Thursday.