Market Report: Citigroup accentuates the positive at BP

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The Independent Online

If BP were led by anyone other than Lord Browne of Madingly it is fair to assume that there would be a long line of investors calling for his head by now. The last 14 months have been a nightmare for the company, stumbling from one public relations disaster to another.

Although the shares fell another 4.5p to 574p, US investment bank Citigroup believes that the time could be right for investors to increase weightings in the stock. The broker points out that the company has been among the worst performing integrated oil stocks over the last year thanks to its "operational blunders", and as a result the shares are "very attractive".

Citigroup's oil team believes that there could be another 15 per cent of upside to its 660p price target, and possibly even more if Lord Browne can deliver another ground-breaking deal in his last two years in the job.

There are few things the stock market likes more than a round of redundancies, and news that Wolseley is set to reduce its US workforce by 2,000 sent the shares 10p firmer to 1,190p by the close. However, some traders also said that the dollar, which yesterday hit a 12-year low against sterling, is likely to cause an even bigger dent in the company's revenues than the weak US housing market.

One trader said: "Given Wolseley's acquisition spree over the last 14 months a reduction in head count was bound to happen. But if the dollar continues to slide there will be better buying opportunities."

Hanson, the other UK blue chip heavily weighted towards the US construction industry, also bucked lower global equity markets by closing 3.5p firmer at 729p.

There was better news on UK house-building as the Nationwide Building Society confirmed that UK house prices continued to rise strongly last month. Persimmon, the UK's largest house-builder, topped the FTSE 100 risers with a 40p gain to 1,460p, a new high.

In the wider market, London shares enjoyed a strong start before poor US economic data took the wind out of traders' sails. Not surprisingly, Wall Street quickly fell into negative territory as the FTSE 100 closed 35.6 lower at 6048.8.

Continuing industrial action by Goodyear workers looks to be playing into the hands of Fenner, the mid-cap manufacturer of conveyor belts for the mining industry. Broker Bridgewell Securities notes that there are few signs of the Goodyear strike coming to an end after eight weeks and that the recent share price weakness is a good buying opportunity. Bridgewell reiterated its 250p target price as Fenner shares added 7.25p to close at 201p.

Broker Panmure Gordon believes that Rentokil Initial's £210m acquisition of Target Express and the sale of its electronic security operations could act as a catalyst for the break up of the pest control to hand dryer conglomerate. The broker upped its recommendation on the shares to "buy" and gave the shares a sum-of-the-parts valuation of 165p as the stock closed 1.5p firmer at 150p.

Bid speculation has surrounded brewing and pub group Wolverhampton & Dudley, 41p firmer at 1,581p, for the last two weeks, and buyers gave the stock strong support ahead of today's results. The word in the market is that a bid will most likely come from a private equity source with traders talking about a price of 1,950p per share, but Punch Taverns, down 23p to 1,153.5p, is also thought to be mulling an offer. Rivals Greene King closed unchanged at 1,034p, having been 26p better before some afternoon profit-taking, while bar and pub group Mitchells & Butlers was also in demand, up 25p to a new all-time high of 670p, following a price target increase from Goldman Sachs.

Peter Hambro Mining took another pounding as investors continued to react to Wednesday's news that the company may lose 5 of its 48 Russian licenses on environmental grounds. Despite broker Seymour Pierce upping its stance to "buy" from "hold", sellers retained the upper hand as the stock closed another 100p worse at 925p.

It looks like the takeover of Eureka Mining by Celtic Resources will now go ahead after Eureka shareholders passed all resolutions at an EGM yesterday. The Aim listing of Eureka is expected to be cancelled on 21 December with shareholders receiving 5 Celtic shares for every 16 eureka held. With Celtic closing at 180p, 10.5p better, the bid values Eureka at 56.25p per share.

Finally, Wren Homes, a retirement apartment builder, made a successful switch from Plus Markets to Aim, raising £5.8m of new capital in the process.

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