The Week That Was: It just isn't cricket: BP accused over Prudhoe Bay

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The Independent Online

The furore over alleged ball tampering in the Pakistan-England test match dominated the agenda at the start of the week - just as BP became embroiled in a tampering controversy of a different kind.

US authorities are alleging that the oil giant tampered with or manipulated inspection data to avoid replacing its pipeline at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.

BP's dominant position in the industry is now under threat from BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, which is planning to double its production of oil within three years. BHP Billiton broke the news as it announced a thumping 63 per cent increase in profits to £5.6bn.

Food prices went up in July for the third month running, with supermarkets blaming poor harvests, the hot summer, and the rising cost of products such as coffee and orange juice. Richard Ratner at broker Seymour Pierce warned: "This is not a temporary phenomenon. I think they will make these prices stick."

Supermarkets have become everyone's favourite whipping boys. And now Blacks Leisure, the outdoor clothing and sports chain, has joined the chorus of disapproval, blaming lower profits on cheap tents sold by the likes of Tesco and Asda. Apparently, Tesco is knocking them out for just £7.97, which has badly hit business at Blacks' own Millets shops. The profit warning from Blacks, its second within five weeks, could trigger a bid for the group, say analysts.

There was relief elsewhere, though, as hotel giant InterContinental was left unscathed by the airport terror alerts. The group reported interim profits 30 per cent ahead at £107m and says people are sticking to their travel plans.

Meanwhile, British Airways piled pressure on BAA - owner of Britain's main airports and acquired for £10bn earlier this year by Spanish group Ferrovial - by urging that Heathrow and Stansted have separate owners.

On the economic front, factory order-books are at their healthiest for 20 months, giving firms the chance to push up prices, according to CBI data.

But troubles could lie ahead as the pound continues to gain ground against the dollar, making exports dearer.

It doesn't get any better for first-time home buyers. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors says the cost of housing is at its most expensive for more than 20 years, with a couple buying for the first time needing to save 74 per cent of their take- home pay over seven years to build up an average deposit.

Shares in iSoft, the healthcare software company which is being investigated by the Financial Services Authority, clawed back some ground on Friday. It unveiled losses of £343m but also a partial refinancing and a new £153m contract.

Baugur, the Icelandic investment group, agreed a £351m takeover of House of Fraser and is to pump £99m into the store chain's pension fund.

And in sunnier climes, banks including Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are rubbing their hands over the mega fees they will earn from the Australian government's £3.2bn privatisation of telecoms group Telstra.

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