Market report: BT dials up gains on talk of bid action

Derek Pain
Wednesday 06 May 1998 23:02

IS THE telephone about to ring for BT? Shares of Britain's major entry into the global telephony industry soared 29.5p to a 693p peak in often busy trading.

Although the Stock Exchange's controversial order book often distorts closing prices, it looked as though a rush of late orders pushed the shares to their new high.

The sudden display of interest was accompanied by stories of corporate action, including a bid for full control of the Cellnet mobile telephone operation to another ambitious overseas strike. There was even talk that, as the world's communications industry submerged national boundaries, what was once the button A of Britain's call boxes was about to collect an overseas bid.

This week a number of analysts have advocated BT's merits, many suggesting the shares should be riding at more than 700p.

BT was a major influence in a late Footsie rally which left the index sporting a 5.9 points gain at 5,992.4. Underlining the volatility which followed the arrival of order-driven trading the index was nursing a 26.3 point loss just 30 minutes before the final call over.

Mid and small cap shares again displayed complete indifference to the gyrations of their peers. The supporting indices resolutely advanced to new peaks.

J Sainsbury's results and the change of chairman lifted the shares 22.25p to 502.25p but Whitbread's cautious comments with its figures lowered the shares 30p to 1,060p, dragging Bass down 34p to 1,082p.

The former building societies were for a time in more robust form, after their recent weakness. Alliance & Leicester led the recovery after making much more confident noises at its shareholders meeting than had been expected. After easing fears of a mortgage war, its shares gained 29.5p to 862p; Halifax, still buying in shares, was at one time up 22p at 804p. The shares closed just 4p higher at 786p, illustrating the disillusionment with its buy-back programme which has so far, as expected, failed to produce little in the way of benefits for its army of small shareholders.

Exporters made further headway and the possibility of a deal between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler prompted gains in a host of engineering and electrical groups as theories of further potential deals surfaced. Smiths Industries jumped 66p to 965p; General Electric Co 31p to 521p and British Aerospace 29.5p to 532.5p. Siebe, up 46p to 1,444p and BTR, up 4.75p to 204.5p, joined in the fun.

Sugar group Tate & Lyle dropped 24p to 460p on results but Select Appointments, the recruitments group, jumped 63.5p to 893.5p following a buoyant first- quarter trading report. The shares are near their year's high. However, back in 1988 they topped 2,000p.

Deals continued to stir the undercard. Seton Healthcare's proposed acquisition of Scholl, famed for its foot hygiene, pushed the shares 45p higher to 708.5p. Scholl jumped 68.5p to 448.5p. The near pounds 700m deal should pushed the enlarged group into the Footsie 250 mid cap index.

Cliveden, the hotelier. firmed to 92.5p. The bid is expected to come in at around 115p. Jeyes, famed for its disinfectant, added 25p to 187.5p as the company revealed a bid approach.

Rumours of bids went the rounds. Associated British Ports rose 17p to 375p on speculation of an overseas strike and Latchways, a business support group, rose 35p to 337.5p.

Glaxo Wellcome lost 24p to 1,711p despite a Salomon Smith Barney estimate that the shares should be around 2,000p; Zeneca, down 22p at 2,578p, was accorded a 2,900p target.

BTP, the chemical group, jumped 29p to 475p on hopes it could enjoy some of the rewards from Pfizer's Viagra drug.

ML Laboratories had a difficult time. The drugs group fell 7.5p to 75.5p, equalling its low point. An attempted Merrill Lynch placing of around 125,000 shares apparently did the damage. The shares touched 468.75p two years ago. They have been in decline since the group moved out of losses into profits.

Pilkington, the glass maker, put on 4.5p to 136.5p, highest this year. Good figures from arch rival Saint Gobain and consolidation in the European glass industry provided the impetus.

West 175 Enterprises, making "lifestyle" television programmes, surged 20p to 85p. John Gunn has acquired another 10,000 shares and now has just over 5 per cent. His buying coincides with a BBC deal. The company and the Beeb are launching a cookery series on US television.

Amstrad rose 3p to 39.5p as chairman Alan Sugar picked up 3.5 million shares at 35.5p. He now has 29.8 per cent.

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