Friday lunchtime's business bulletin

Northern Rock's shares gain 6%; Royal Bank of Scotland's ABN Amro bidding partner Fortis launches £9.4bn rights issue; Supermarket giant Tesco accused of limiting comprtition.

Northern Rock’s roller-coaster ride on the markets continued today as the mortgage lender’s shares gained 6%.

The company was 10.9p higher at 196.1p - around the level of rumoured bids for the group - making up some of the ground lost in its 28% slump yesterday.

Buoyant commodities prices and broker upgrades helped the wider FTSE 100 Index gain 37.9 points to 6466.9 by mid-morning.

Joining Northern Rock among the risers were a host of energy stocks. The sector was fired by oil prices which hit a record high for the fourth straight session on Thursday, before easing back overnight.

British Energy was up 26p at 514.5p as traders anticipated the benefits of higher fuel costs. BG Group lifted 9.5p to 857p, and oil giant BP rose 6.5p to 597p.

Royal Bank of Scotland’s ABN Amro bidding partner Fortis today launched a £9.4bn rights issue to help fund its share of the consortium’s takeover offer.

Fortis, the Belgian bank which is bidding alongside RBS and Spain’s Santander, announced the share placing at 15 euros per share - a 44% discount on the group’s stock.

The fund raising is set to provide more than half of the £16.8bn Fortis needs for its slice of the Dutch bank bid, more than a third of the consortium’s £49bn offer.

Fortis is also selling off non-core parts of the business and issuing bonds to shore up finance for the deal.

The consortium, which is battling against Barclays to buy ABN, yesterday received a fillip when ABN chief executive Rijkman Groenink said their bid was emerging as the clear favourite.

Regulators accused supermarket giant Tesco today of limiting competition and choice following its acquisition of a former Co-op store.

The Competition Commission has provisionally ruled that the purchase of the store in Slough, Berks, in 2003, by the UK’s largest supermarket group, has resulted in a ``substantial" lessening of competition in the area.

The Office of Fair Trading referred Tesco to the Competition Commission in April after it failed to find a buyer for the site it had been told to sell in 2004.

The pound at noon was US$2.0139 compared to US$2.0127 at the previous close while the euro at noon was £0.6980  compared to £0.7002 at the previous close.

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Stuart Rayner
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