BP provides a bright spot as strong rally peters out

MARKET REPORT

Shares of British Petroleum flared 14p to 545.5p after an upbeat presentation to analysts and fund managers.

Chairman Sir David Simon and chief executive John Browne talked about a $1.5bn income increase to $4.5bn a year by the turn of the century. Earnings growth, they said, would be more than 8 per cent a year on a 4 per cent rise in capital spending.

Production could grow 30 per cent to 1.8 million barrels a day by the year 2,000 and then potentially to 2 million a day.

Although profit forecasts are likely to be lifted only slightly, BP impressed its audience and Nick Antill at Barclays de Zoete Wedd said the meeting "confirmed that BP is continuing to perform better than its peers".

With the crude oil price remaining firm BP's confident comments helped oils move ahead with Shell 6p higher at 840p and Burmah 13p stronger at 1,044p.

The rest of the stock market again promised only to deceive. A strong rally, with the FT-SE 100 index up 21.7 points, petered out and by the close Footsie could manage a mere 0.8 gain to 3,640.3.

Takeover speculation drifted over a few shares. Standard Chartered ignored the Taiwan tension to score a 22p gain to 586p after 601p. When bid speculation was at its height the shares stretched to 667p.

Standard was also encouraged by a little lightening of the banking gloom and by bullish comments from James Capel.

Barclays, holding investment meetings in Scotland, recovered 7p to 695p. But HSBC continued to suffer from the Far Eastern tension. It fell a further 17p to 960.5p.

A story to gain some currency was a Unilever strike for Cadbury Schweppes. Unilever was up 20p at 1,228p following management changes and Cadbury put on 4p to 514p.

British Aerospace, up 9p at 876p, was fuelled by an investment meeting at Henderson Crosthwaite. The securities house also gave a lift to Rolls- Royce, suggesting a medium-term target of 240p; the shares rose 2p to 204p.

Profits this year are forecast at pounds 220m, reaching pounds 480m by the year 2,000.

BAT Industries was the weakest blue chip. Worries about US litigation following the decision by the small Liggett Group to settle health claims sent the shares crashing 35p to 505p after 497p.

Turnover, as measured by Seaq, was a remarkable 31.4 million. Interest will no doubt be directed at the heavy turnover on Tuesday when 25 million shares were traded in three lots at 544p.

Glaxo Wellcome was another leader under the whip. Since its admission that it may have to mount another big acquisition to keep its drug pot boiling, the shares have been in the casualty ward. They lost a further 28p to 804p and have tumbled 116p since it spoke about the possibility of another deal last week.

Zeneca is seen in many quarters as the most likely target. Although a bid would create monopoly problems Glaxo could expect Whitehall clearance to help counter the growing power and size of other international drug companies.

Guinness, figures soon, frothed 10p to 464p. There is persistent talk of corporate action and LVMH, the French group with 20 per cent, is regarded as a weak holder.

Matthew Clark, the cider and wine group, eased to 702p. Merrill Lynch has pencilled in a target price of 800p.

Vodafone rose 8.5p to 249.5p on US buying and Cable and Wireless, at one time up 8p, settled for a 2p gain to 469p.

Lonrho gained 8p to 202p as Anglo American Corporation agreed to buy 5.9 per cent - the shares Tiny Rowland sold to chief executive Dieter Bock.

Firth, the steel group, added 1.5p to 47.5p as Sri Inderajaya, a Malaysian investment company, continued its build-up. It picked up another 30,000 shares, nudging its stake to 13.89 per cent. Firth shares have climbed from 24p as trading has improved and the Malaysians have shown themselves keen to buy.

Cordiant's return to health helped the shares 11p higher to 116p and Mirror Group Newspapers, ahead of figures today, rose 7p to 214p.

Shield Diagnostics gained 29p to 150p after winning a US patent for its blood test, measuring the risk of heart disease.

Saltire, the old conglomerate, completed its second hotel deal in two days, selling a property to Greenalls for pounds 15m and cutting its gearing to 13 per cent.

TAKING STOCK

rA revamping exercise is under way at Hotspur, an obscure investment trust. CM Holdings, set up for the deal, is bidding pounds 3.7m; 600p a share. Its offer has already been accepted by shareholders with 64.2 per cent of the capital, including trustees of the will of the seventh Duke of Northumberland who died in 1918. Behind CM is thought to be entrepreneur Michael Charlton. The group intends to retain its listing as an investment trust until acquisitions are found. The shares jumped 250p to 700p.

rMedia Business Group, the advertising media buyer, has achieved new billings worth pounds 16m this year, including taking on IKEA, the Swedish furniture group. The company came to market in September at 3p; the shares rose 0.25p to 5p.

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