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Market Watch

FINANCE

SHARES in Henry Boot hit a record 772.5p last week after posting a leap in annual profits, which justified the Yorkshire-based group's decision to exit house building.

Boot's shares had eased back by Friday's close.

Traders are buying shares in MJ Gleeson despite AIMlisted predator Castle recently dropping plans for a £197 million all-share bid for the group.

Castle moved away after Gleeson's management decided to focus on house building and, with stock on the market, North Atlantic Value hoovered up 155,000 shares last week.

This took NAV's stake to 4.2 million shares or 81 per cent in Gleeson, which ticked up 11.5p to 380p last week.

With construction activity at a six-month high, according to recent data from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, the sector remains popular and brokers Altium reiterated a 'buy' rating on social housing contractor Connaught ? up 49p to 956.5p.

The feeling for private house builders is more mixed as the results season closes.

Barratt gained 12.5p to 1,071.5p after producing interims that prompted broker UBS to raise its target price 50p to 1,150p but the rating stayed at 'neutral'.

Merrill Lynch re-iterated a 'buy' rating on Barratt up to 1,250p but Panmure, despite hiking its target price on the stock to 1,170p, stuck with a 'hold' rating.

A trading statement from Crest Nicholson did not excite Panmure, which downgraded the stock to 'hold' from 'buy' with a target price of 520p, leaving Crest off thruppence at 519p last week.

Bellway gained 11p to 1,246p on interims and Panmure stuck with a 'hold' but did raise its target price by 130p to 1,340p as analyst John Fraser Andrews suggested that a second-half recovery should boost annual profits.