Market Report: Banking sector buzzes with takeover talk

Francesco Guerrera
Saturday 28 November 1998 01:02

BARCLAYS yesterday shook the market out of its Friday torpor and spiced up an otherwise dull day. The big news broke before the start of trading. As dealers walked in, looking forward to squaring their books and disappearing into one of the City's watering holes, they were rattled by the shock departure of the bank's chief executive Martin Taylor.

With a profit warning thrown in for good measure, Barclays' fate was sealed before one share had changed hands. When the market did open, the stock drowned in a sea of red, finishing 114p down at 1,374p - the worst performance in the Footsie. More than 25m shares were traded, the second- highest volume in the whole market.

Barclays-watchers spent the day torn between surprise and speculation over the future of the blue-chip bank. Most dealers were left speechless by Mr Taylor's departure. Those who summoned the strength to talk spoke of a vague rumour of a bid from Lloyds TSB, up 11.5p to 869p, or a revamp of merger plans with NatWest, down 11.5p at 1,137, or a break-up of the business.

The banks' day horribilis was completed by Standard Chartered, a rumoured Barclays target only a while ago. The emerging market outfit posted a 28p deficit to 667p after warning that the Asian crisis will slash second- half revenues. HSBC, the fellow Hong Kong bank, fell 28p to 1,675p in sympathy.

Footsie was able to shrug off the banks' woes with more than a little help from Wall Street's firm opening. After a morning of losses, the blue- chip index swung back into profit as its American counterpart cheered confirmation of the Exxon-Mobil merger talks. Footsie ended 16.3 higher at 5844.2. True to form, the smaller indices fared less well. The midcap closed down 14.9 to 4926.0 while the small cap scraped through with a 3.3 gain to 2070.9.

Telecoms were ringing in gains. Colt Telecom, the recent Footsie entrant, spearheaded the rally with a 6.7 per cent gain to 811p, which propelled it to the top of the blue-chip board. Cable & Wireless was also on the line, rising 30p to 785p after SG said "buy".

JJB Sports, the sport retailer, found some buyers after a tough period in the relegation zone. The shares topped the medium cap big risers' chart with a 13.2 per cent rise to 235p. A lunch with Charterhouse Tilney was said to have allayed the fears triggered by rival Hi-Tec's profit warning earlier in the week.

Corporate activity was the driver of Arriva's share rise. The bus group stopped at 426.5p after a 24p upwards journey. Broker Panmure was said to have jumped on the "buy bandwagon" after the pounds 47m buy of a couple of Dutch bus groups.

Arriva's rival Stagecoach ramped up 10.5p to 235.5p, thanks to a correction of a roguish trade on Thursday.

Marley, the bricks group being stalked by smaller rival John Mansfield, built on the previous day's gains with a 6.6 per cent advance to 105. The market is hoping a higher counterbid will materialise shortly.

Weir Group, the engineer, has replaced Marley as the butt of bid speculation. The shares climbed 4.5p to 227.5p as ITT Industries of the US displaced domestic companies as the favourite suitor.

No such luck for Cattles, the credit company that likes to say yes to high-risk borrowers. The shares plummeted 4.6 per cent to 612.5p after it scrapped the sale of two divisions because of a lack of buyers.

But it was Devro, the maker of sausage skins, which claimed the prize of mid-cap worst performer. Thursday's profit warning took some brokers time to digest and yesterday's downgradings trimmed the price down more than 11 per cent to 169p, its all-time nadir.

From human food to dog food. Pascoes, the maker of pet delicacies such as Pascoes Original and Pascoes Chicken, rose over 11 per cent to 24p after a 23 per cent stake changed hands.

Smaller equities were excited by a rare spurt of takeover activity. Focus Dynamics, an underperforming maker of industrial lawnmowers, soared almost 60 per cent to 31.5p, after receiving a 35p a share offer from Ofex-traded Corporate Services.

Blockeys, a builder merchant, put on 8p to 44.5p on suggestion that rival Natural Building Materials may use its 9 per cent stake to mount a bid.

Delcam, a software company, was the day's major disaster. It plunged 44 per cent to 28.5p after warning that earnings will be hit by non-paying Russian customers.

Mediakey, the agency that uses stars such as John Cleese and Hugh Laurie to produce amusing training videos, had reasons to be sad. The closure of one division and a pounds 1.4m exceptional charge wiped the smille of its investors' faces and a third off its price which closed at 7p.

Headway, a sofa-bed maker, completed the small-cap profit warning's hatrick. It talked of difficult market conditions and its shares slumped 7.5p to 26.5p.




CHARRIOL, the investment vehicle of former Leeds football club boss Chris Akers, was suspended at 117.5p after having soared more than 23 per cent.

The company, which is 10 per cent owned by Mr Akers, said it was negotiating a "substantial acquisition".

The smart money is on a reverse takeover of a medium-sized IT company.

EXPECT a flood of deals at Quadrant Healthcare, up 5p to 81.5p. The biotechnology company yesterday won a long-running patent dispute against its founder Bruce Roser. Mr Roser, who resigned before the company's float in March, claimed rights to Quadrant's technology. The High Court ruled in favour of the company, which specialises in finding new ways of delivering drugs.

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