Weekly stockmarket round-up


As well as Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury, private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts has said it is looking at a bid, as has Bhs owner Philip Green.

So far, the only offer on the table is the one from Morrisons, although Safeway is no longer recommending acceptance of this to its shareholders. The others are likely to be interested primarily in breaking Safeway up, grabbing the stores they want and selling the rest on, but they are offering more money. An enquiry into the bids could take months.

Cable & Wireless’s new chairman, Richard Lapthorne, has wasted no time in firing Graham Wallace, the company’s under pressure chief executive, as part of a boardroom clear-out. However, Mr Wallace will not be going straight away – he will continue to oversee the company’s deep cost cutting plans until such time a successor is appointed.

Two of Britain’s best-known biotech firms are to merge. Oxford Glycosciences and Cambridge Antibody Technology hope the deal will increase their financial resources and combine complementary technologies. The all-share transaction will see CAT effectively take over OGS, and its management team will take the top jobs at the merged company. The deal is unlikely to be the last in the sector.

The Office of Fair Trading upset the mobile phone companies this week by ordering cuts in the price of calls between networks. The operators say they will simply have to recoup this money by raising prices elsewhere, including handset prices. Vodafone has threatened a judicial review. The big loser is O2, because most of its revenue comes from the UK. It will delay the start of third-generation services as a result.

Life insurance companies have started reporting new business figures for 2002. This data shows how much new cover they have written and are a good indicator of their profit performance. So far, figures from Aviva and Prudential have been resilient, although share prices in the sector are bombed out and look temptingly cheap.

A mixed picture of Christmas trading continues to emerge from the country’s leading retailers. Among the firms reporting last week were Boots and Carphone Warehouse, both of which reported better-than-expected figures. Boots, however, did have to cut prices to boost sales, which in turn will reduce profit margins.

Bar operators Luminar and Yates have both warned of slowing sales after a poor Christmas season. The troubles at Yates are no surprise, as the company has been struggling for some time. But nightclub owner Luminar is viewed as one of the sector’s stronger operators. It is selling off some of its less profitable units, but warned that tough industry conditions – cut-price drinks promotions are the chief culprit – are likely to persist.

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