Market Report: BP investment prospect pushes shares to 324p

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BRITISH Petroleum, in the doldrums last year, moved ahead strongly as the stock market anticipated encouraging investment presentations this week.

The group is due to meet analysts in London tomorrow; on Thursday it will be the turn of New York researchers to get the BP message.

In busy trading the shares rose 9p to 324p. Last year as BP's prospects deteriorated dramatically and Robert Horton quit as chairman, they fell to 185.5p.

It is thought that BP's costcutting campaign has been particularly successful and the slide in the crude oil price, dollars 14.20 a barrel yesterday, was not hurting the oil giant as much as many had suspected. Indeed one view is that as a result of cash savings, it has cut its cost structure from an dollars 18 crude price to dollars 16. So, runs the argument, BP is reasonably valued at dollars 14 and undervalued at dollars 16.

BP is also expected to offer upbeat comments on its important Colombian oil development where production is likely to start late next year.

A series of disposals, with more to come, have lowered expectations of a huge rights issue. But the fear the group will be tempted to tap the market has not entirely evaporated.

Lasmo, currently as friendless as BP was last year, attracted support from Henderson Crosthwaite. The shares, which have slumped from more than 300p, rose 3p to 107p. Henderson said the shares discounted 'everything but a continuation of depressed oil prices'.

The stockbroker added that 'with long-term finance in place and substantial cash reserves', Lasmo could cope with a long period of low crude prices.

Elsewhere, leading shares failed to hold early gains although the FT-SE 100 index dip, 6.7 points to 3,254.6, was a result of shares going ex-dividend. The 250 index rose 6.3 to 3,607.6 - a new high.

Fisons was the day's main casualty following the trading statement and boardroom upheaval. In heavy trading - Seaq put turnover at 30 million - the shares collapsed to 102.75p, closing 24p down at 113p.

There was consternation among some high income funds which have bought the shares on what was felt to be assurances that the dividend would not be cut. SmithKline Beecham was unchanged at 375p following a government licence for its Famvirt herpes drug.

Waters rose following the decision to abandon the European Union demands on bathing and drinking water. Food retailers rallied, helped by a UBS push.

Croda International slipped 5p to 338p as Hoare Govett suggested profits should be taken after the strong outperformance in the past two years. Analyst Martin Evans has lowered his profit forecast by pounds 2m to pounds 38m for this year and by pounds 2m to pounds 42m for next.

Rank Organisation remained in demand, up 12p at 926p. Logica, the computer group, was unchanged at 261p following an analysts meeting.

Inspiration, the holiday group, made an impressive debut, reaching 111p against a 100p offer price.

Rolls-Royce fell 3p to 167p, ruffled by talk of a cautious circular later this week. BTR was again subdued on profit downgradings. The shares fell 10.5p to 338p.

BAT Industries fell 8p to 515p. Tax problems at its Allied-Dunbar offshoot are, claim sources close to the group, likely to cost about pounds 100,000.

Business Technology provided a minor upset. It is placing shares at 12.75p to help pay for an acquisition and working capital. The price tumbled 1.5p to 13p.

Manders, the ink and paint group, rose 6p to 324p on property sale hopes and British Dredging held at 130p as Redbird Holdings, a Panamanian group, said it had lifted its stake to 7.41 per cent.

Suter, the mini-conglomerate run by David Abell, was up 2p at 133p. After the close it said it had sold a freehold property for nearly pounds 11m. The market expects more sales as well as acquisitions in the next few months.

Bakyrchik, seeking gold in the former Soviet Union, continued its run - gaining 55p to 405p.

The Christmas account started with the FT-SE 100 index down 6.7 points at 3,254.6 and the FT-SE 250 index moving to a new peak, up 6.3 at 3,607.6. Turnover was 653.8 million. The account ends on 31 December. Settlement is on 10 January. Gilts were firm.

Crockfords, the casino group, is thought to be on the verge of completing its first deal since it arrived via a reverse takeover of the old TV-am television contractor in September. One suggestion is that it is about to splash out pounds 16m buying a London casino, probably from the Rank Organisation. Crockfords' shares rose 6p to 135p after touching 140p.

African Gold, suspended from the twilight 535 share market for a year, may be retraded before the end of the month. Dealings were halted while unsuccessful takeover talks were held with a Botswanian investor. While the negotiations dragged on AfGold lost an important conccession in Zimbabwe. To maintain its remaining operations it plans a private share placing.