The best performing sector last week was gas distribution, which rose 6.3 per cent. Centrica was the best-performing stock of the week while British Gas rose 4.8 per cent. Investors now believe that both companies have got to grips with their regulatory and competitive problems. British Gas benefited from optimism after the previous week's regulatory ruling over pipeline fees. British Gas is one of the Western energy companies vying to win projects to bring gas to Asian markets from Russia, Australia and the Persian Gulf over the next 10 years. An immediate concern remains that both companies could be among the former state-owned concerns which have to pay the windfall tax on "excess" profits.

THE WORST performing sector was tobacco, which fell 7.65 per cent after the announcement of the litigation settlement in the US last week. Given the concerns that the settlement will not meet a key goal of reducing teenage smoking, it is feared President Clinton may not approve of it.

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