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Market Watch

FINANCE

BALFOUR Beatty's surprise £32 million acquisition of Birse generally went down well in the Square Mile last week.

The 16.6p per share offer was unveiled early last week and Balfour then drummed up more interest with an analysts' meeting, prompting stockbrokers Bridgewell to reiterate a 'buy' rating.

This helped ease Balfour up 13.75p to 343.5p by Friday's close, while Birse was among the week's highest risers.

Among the plant hirers, Ashtead was hit by profit takers despite posting strong annual results, but Speedy gained after being promoted to the FTSE 250 index.

Berkeley was marked up 24p to a 12-month high of 1,213p af ter the house builder produced results that met most analysts' expectations for profits but not turnover.

Berkeley finished its financial year to June 2006 with cash of £220.6 million, compared with debts of £255 million a year ago, after a sterling performance and the sale of Manchester arm Crosby.

David Taylor, an analyst at brokers Teather & Greenwood, said: 'Berkeley has done very well. Its comments on the housing market more widely are reassuring, particularly for London.'

There was interest in Persimmon ahead of a trading statement due this week from the only FTSE 100 house builder. Morgan Stanley urged investors into the stock citing a retreat in the share price since it reached a peak in February.

With Credit Suisse also reiterating an 'outperform' rating on Persimmon, the stock ticked up 25p to 1,234p.