Little interest as Rank attempts to revamp Butlin's


Derek Pain
Monday 01 September 1997 23:02

Rank, the leisure group which has failed to sparkle since Andrew Teare was drafted in as chief executive, could at last be on the verge of offering a little encouragement to a disillusioned stock market.

Tomorrow it is expected to hold investment presentations on its Butlin's holiday camp off-shoot, a business still many believe entrenched in the hi-di-hi days of the 1950s.

Rank has acknowledged Butlin's is past its sell-by date. Last month Nigel Turnbull, finance director, said: "People on social security are coming and finding they can stay cheaper than at home."

Under its founder, Sir Billy Butlin, it transformed the British seaside holiday, prompting a host of imitators. But the holiday camp concept has fallen victim to the holiday centres of Center Parcs and continental package deals.

It is expected that the Rank revamp, which also embraces its Haven holiday camps, will offer a complete new look with a dramatic upgrading of facilities. With the reorganisation being announced at the end of the holiday season it would not be surprising if Rank accompanies the revamp with the closure of some of its old camps.

Since Mr Teare arrived from English China Clays the stock market has fallen steadily out of love with the famous old company.

Mr Teare has taken the group into pubs and sold much of the family silver. But it was a profits warning in June which caused dismay.

A little over a year ago Rank shares were riding at 545p; yesterday they rose just 1p to 354.5p.

The shares were helped by evidence the seemingly half-hearted share buy- back was still under way as a further 2.8 million shares were acquired at 352p.

The rest of the market was, at least superficially, in splendid form with Footsie up 52.7 points at 4,870.2. But New York was closed and London trading was dismally thin with even the 500 million break-even volume out of reach.

It could be argued that the market was operating in a vacuum. The advance was largely due to a few special situations.

Properties were active with British Land up 16p to 589.5p on suggested SBC Warburg support.

Burford, the Nigel Wray property company which has spawned a succession of spin-offs, including the Trocadero leisure group, was firm on suggestions a deal with MEPC could be under consideration.

MEPC has lost its place as the nation's second-largest property company to British Land and is seen as being in need of a management injection.

The story going the rounds is it will, in effect, attempt a reverse takeover of Burford to bring Mr Wray and his team on board.

MEPC is vulnerable. Earlier this year it seemed near to linking with the Hammerson property group and in June British Land was rumoured to be on the verge of striking. MEPC rose 1.5p to 470p and Burford was 1p harder at 121p.

Charter, the industrial group, edged ahead 2p to 771p as Mercury Asset Management declared a 12 per cent interest and Merrill Lynch produced a 900p target.

Bank of Scotland was another to enjoy analytical support with NatWest Securities thought to have lifted its year's profits forecast from pounds 688m to pounds 746m. The shares rose 7.5p to 423.5p. P&O enjoyed a 5p gain to 655p as HSBC talked about a possible break-up valuation.

General Electric Co improved 12p to 393.5p on reports Sir Roger Hurn, chief of Smiths Industries, will take over as chairman when Lord Prior retires next year.

Building shares drew some support from house builder Persimmon which checked in with more than doubled six months profits. Its shares rose 9p to 240.5p.

The Far East fall-out continued to weigh on giant banker HSBC, off 10p at 1,910p. But Standard Chartered perked up 6p to 832.5p.

Shield Diagnostic rose 17.5p to 575p on suggestions of European presentations and ML Laboratories, up 4p to 171.5p, was helped by investment meetings.

SFI, the old Surrey Free Inns, was little changed at 123.5p in the new slimline form and the JD Wetherspoon pubs chain firmed to 1,417.5p, a peak, ahead of Thursday's results which should show profits around pounds 18m against pounds 13.1m.

Plasmon, which caught the market on the hop with a profit warning, is backing out of volume production of CD discs. The shares were riding at 241.5p last year; they rose 3p to 45.5p on the restructuring.

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