BP strikes new heights as crude price inspires oil firms

British Petroleum, only four years ago bumping along at a miserable 187p, flared 9.5p to a peak of 613.5p.

US buying was thought to be responsible for the display of strength. Figures earlier this week were said to be the main influence although the firmness of the crude price was clearly an influence.

The shares are the cheapest of the international oil giants. And their appeal is strengthened by the prospect of sharp dividend increases and a possible share buyback within the next year.

Other oils drew strength from the crude performance which ignored the growing prospect of Iraq commencing exports in the next few weeks following the UN Sanctions Committee's adoption of the oil-for-food requirements.

Burmah, helped by an overnight American buying order, added 22p to 1,020p and Enterprise Oil improved 7p to 488p.

Encouraged by the bubbling oil display, the rest of the stock market staged a late bid to make it eight wins in a row. It just failed to achieve such a remarkable sequence, last managed three years ago.

The FT-SE 100 index finished only 0.7 points down at 3,810.7 after 3,793.9. Trading was again thin with most investors, big and small, content to bide their time.

BSkyB, the satellite television station, broke through the 500p barrier for the first time, gaining 8p to 507p. James Capel and Barclays de Zoete Wedd made buy signals. Year's figures are due later this month with a near pounds 100m gain to pounds 256m expected.

BT was little changed at 376p after a strong display this week. The shares have responded positively to the group's grudging acceptance of the latest Oftel proposals which allow it to avoid a distracting and potentially damaging referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

New issue Somerfield, the supermarket chain, managed to cast a little embarrassment in the direction of its advisers, Kleinwort Benson, touching 163p and closing at 159p in busy trading. Kleinwort was twice forced to lower the flotation price, eventually settling on 145p.

Kwik Save fell 9p to 415p. Shares of the discount group are regarded as the most likely casualty of Somerfield which is on a much lower rating and could be expected to attract switching from Kwik Save.

Hanson's rally continued with the price edging ahead to 168.5p. But BTR was stuck at its warrants exercise level, unchanged at 258p.

Reports of a cable merger between Nynex and Telewest created a frisson of excitement. The theory is the hard pressed cable companies believe their disappointment at the poor reception they have received would be eased if they pooled their resources. It was enough to lift Nynex 5p to 93p and Telewest 3p to 142p. Nynex has been as high as 147p in the past year; Telewest touched 195p.

Cardcast and Card Clear, involved in card payment and fraud prevention, confirmed they were actually talking merger. Card Clear, 5p firmer at 43p, is expected to make a share exchange offer for Cardcast, up 5p at 88p

After Thursday's blush of excitement, insurances came down to earth with United Friendly off 34p at 805p and its proposed partner, Refuge, down a further 15p at 393p. London & Manchester fell 15p to 366p and Britannic 22p to 741p.

Boosey & Hawkes ended the week on a high note. The shares jumped 68p to 798p after a US court ruled in B&H's favour in its dispute with Disney over the copyright for the Fantasia video. Earlier this week the company paid pounds 17.9m for a reed maker. On Monday the shares were 665p.

Ladbroke was the best performing blue chip as takeover speculation returned. The shares cantered 4.5p to 197p in brisk trading. A deal with Hilton Hotels Corporation is still the market's favourite bet with Bass expected to be preoccupied with Carlsberg Tetley and out of the running.

British Steel fell 3.5p to 178.5p as SBC Warburg remained negative and James Capel caution lowered Lucas Industries 2p to 231p.

Pan Andean Resources' Bolivian oil hopes lifted the shares 7p to a 123p peak and African Gold, also from the John Teeling stable, improved 2p to 17p.

AG, a maker of reels for the storage of cables and ropes, firmed to 157p on Williams de Broe support. Profits are expected to have risen nearly pounds 500,000 to pounds 3.5m in the year just ended with pounds 4m likely this year.

Cowie, the transport group, was little changed at 367p despite a buy note from Wise Speke suggesting the shares could hit 450p in the next year.

TAKING STOCK

rAIM's only Nasdaq share, Electronic Retailing Systems, is enjoying a spectacular run this month. The US supplier of electronic shelf labelling systems arrived at 145p when Henderson Crosthwaite placed shares to raise pounds 7.7m. After a subdued few weeks the shares have come to life and yesterday jumped 25p to 198p. The group's products allow price changes and stock information to be transmitted between the shelf and a store's central computer.

rStories persist Whitbread has another significant takeover bid on its menu. The leisure giant is in the process of paying pounds 133m for the Pelican restaurant chain and there is talk it could descend on Harry Ramsden's, the famous fish and chip chain with a market capitalisation of pounds 33m. Ramsden's rose 10p to 380p.

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