EasyJet flies again in the face of dubious bid talk

You can’t keep a good bid rumour down. Shares in easyJet were up for the second trading session in a row, leading the gainers of the FTSE 100 for much of the day. The talk is of an offer from the US.

The shares rose 27p to £11.05. There are reasons that this could be true. The shares are still £4 below where they were when it issued a profit warning last month. The company is far cheaper than it would have been before the referendum and the fall in the value of the pound.

Still, the whole matter has the look of a puffed-up rumour to lighten up the dull days of summer, even if the volume of stocks traded was high. Alternatively, it is being put about by someone who found themself at the wrong end of the share price after that profit warning. Wide moves in easyJet’s price are not uncommon.

To say that the stock market lacked direction would be suggesting a degree of urgency that was lacking in yesterday’s trading. Dealers are looking forward to next week’s meeting of central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that may give some idea of the future direction of US interest rates.

The weaker-than-expected UK public sector finances in July, with a lower surplus, were a negative. Domestic stocks such as housebuilders, which had been recovering of late, were sold off again.

The FTSE 100 ended off 10.01 points at 6,858.95. The post-referendum rally seems to have run out of steam. The fall over the week for the FTSE may have been the biggest weekly decline since that Brexit vote, but it still amounted to only 0.8 per cent.

By the close of trade, easyJet had given up its lead on the main board to Lloyds Banking Group. This continued its recovery from its slump after the vote — as the UK’s market leader in the number of current-account holders and with the country’s largest branch network, the bank was seen as particularly exposed to the economy as a whole.

Lloyds shares gained 1¼p to 55¼p. This is still a long way short of the 73p odd the shares would have to reach before the Treasury could kick-start the sale of the public’s stake in the bank and turn a profit.

William Hill was among the biggest risers among the mid-caps. The bidders 888 Holdings and Rank Group may have accepted that their joint offer was not going to get over the first fence, but it prompted the bookie to put out an optimistic forecast for the current year, which will see profits coming in at the top end of earlier guidance.

Bulls hope that the unwanted approach may persuade this long-time underperformer to get its act together. Alternatively, they think the company could see another approach, perhaps from private equity. Whatever the truth in all this, the shares added 11¾p to 315p.

Copper and other industrial metals fell again, reacting to the dollar, which rose on expectations of that future US rate rise. The miners were being sold again, Anglo American off 10p to 870p and BHP Billiton 22p to £10.53. The worst performer was Glencore, which has halfway figures next week. The shares fell 7½p to 188½p.

Among the housebuilders, Taylor Wimpey led the FTSE 100 losers in the sector, down 4p at 153¼p, closely followed by Persimmon, off 29p at £17.48. Traders disappointed at Thursday’s decision by the Swiss bidder Daetwyler to walk away from Premier Farnell, the embattled electronics distributor, and leave the field clear for the 185p-a-share bid from Avnet, of the US, have been dreaming of another offer. The shares failed to make much headway either way, slipping ¼p to 183¾p.

Kaz Minerals, the Kazakhstan miner, continued to make progress, gaining another 15p to 195p. The halfway figures on Thursday passed muster, analysts encouraged by a continuing ramp-up in production of copper into the second half.

Among the small-caps, Independent Oil & Gas found itself friendless after the oil explorer abandoned, plugged and walked away from an appraisal well on its Skipper prospect in the northern North Sea. Though the company says that the drill bit achieved its main objective of finding good samples, the phrase “the well did not encounter hydrocarbons” is never taken well by the market, and the shares lost 4¼p, or about 15 per cent of their value, to 24¾p.

Elsewhere among the oil tiddlers, Bowleven gained 1½p to 26p. The Africa-focused explorer has approved a share buyback programme that will take shares worth up to $10 million off the market.

Wall Street report
Shares edged lower, led by declines in utility companies, as investors considered the prospects for an increase in interest rates, perhaps as early as September. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 45.13 points to close at 18,552.57.