stock market review: former SKB chief back in business at low end

Jan Leschly, the former chief executive of pharmaceuticals company SmithKline Beecham, who resigned from the company early this year, is back but this time spearheading an investment fund targeting opportunities at the bottom end of the drugs industry.

Leschly has teamed up with John Parker and George Poste, both ex-SmithKline executives and David Ramsay, to launch Care Capital with $100m (£68.7m) in their war chest. Leschly and his team will be sniffing out opportunities to fund niche players.

Management buy-outs are also on their shopping list. The minimum deal size is $5m (£3.4m). But Care Capital is confident that it can comfortably handle transactions in excess of $1bn (£687m) if such opportunities crop up.

Care Capital, whose backers include Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Private Equity, anticipates further consolidation in the crowded pharmaceuticals industry. It expects the combination of government pressure on pricing and expansion of the frontiers of science to provide the catalyst to create areas of profitable opportunities for the niche players in the industry.


BT takes a beating as mobile arm slips behind its rivals


There was bad news for telecoms giant BT last week. The company’s mobile phone arm, BT Cellnet reported the slowest third-quarter growth in the industry, slipping way behind its main rivals, Orange, Vodafone and One2One.

Market analysts are pessimistic about Cellnet’s ability to compete in the near term, given that its products are more expensive than its competitors. Many of Cellnet’s business customers are deserting it for Vodafone and Orange. Although the BT subsidiary made the biggest progress in terms of attracting Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) subscribers, analysts remain doubtful that Cellnet can maintain its competitive position in a market where price discrimination is strong.

BT itself has been accused of dragging its feet in negotiations to allow its competitors to gain access to its local exchanges to pave the way for cheaper Internet charges. BT’s share price came under severe pressure last week, falling way below £6.80. Early last week, it emerged that some boardroom changes are on the cards at the company. It is immensely frustrating for the shareholders that BT continues to regress.


Vodafone gains a foothold in China


Vodafone’s share price made some recovery last week on the back of news that the company has taken a 2 per cent stake in China Mobile, paying $2.5bn (£1.7bn) for the privilege of gaining access to a market with 350 million potential customers.

Also in the telecoms industry, Telewest has poached a senior executive from Orange. Bob Fuller, the highly rated chief operating officer at Orange UK’s mobile operation, is moving to Telewest to add some juice to its cable business. Orange is opening a call centre in the UK and will create at least 1,000 jobs.

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