Market Report: Oil sector depressed by Iraqi sales fear

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The Independent Online
AMERICAN and Iraqi influences combined to unsettle shares, sending the FT-SE 100 index tumbling 31.1 points to 2,857.7, its lowest for nearly a month.

From the opening bell the stock market was exceedingly groggy, with worries about Iraqi sales unsettling the oil sector. When, in the early afternoon, employment figures deepened doubts about the strength of the US economic revival any hope the stock market may have nursed of ending the account on a firm note evaporated.

More overseas interest rate cuts made no impression. The current view is that more foreign reductions will be necessary to tempt a UK move, even if there is talk of recovery slowing down.

Trading was, however, moderate, with the 'triple witching' of sporting events proving an irresistible counter attraction.

On the oil pitch British Petroleum fell 9.5p to 296p, Enterprise Oil 9p to 473p and Shell 15p to 612p.

The sector was clouded by indications that the US is unlikely to object to a one-off oil sale by Iraq. Any Iraqi sale will hit the crude price.

There are fears that once the Iraqi tap is turned on further sales will follow. Any easing of the United Nations embargo on sales will, it is feared, hit the crude price, already under pressure from falling demand.

Ramco Oil Services had another torrid session, falling 11p to 117p. The group's Caspian Sea aspirations have been hit by the growing confusion in the former Soviet Union. The shares were 156p on Monday.

The buoyant gold price, up to a 30-month peak, had the predictable impact on gold shares with, for example, Vaal Reefs up more than pounds 3 to almost pounds 52.

In the two-week account, which has produced little excitement, the FT-SE 100 index has fallen 21.7 points. But the second-string FT-SE 250 index has romped to new peaks. It gave ground yesterday but still managed to end the account with a 19-point gain. On Thursday it reached a peak of 3,241.7.

Trading has often been thin, with many fund managers content to sit on the sidelines. Half-year window- dressing has, no doubt, been a significant feature.

The continuing interest in the second-line stocks reflects the view that most recovery situations linger among its 250 constituents.

Chemicals, already under pressure, had a difficult day, with BOC Group down 18p at 667p as at least two downgradings surfaced.

The US investment house Goldman Sachs reduced this year's forecast from pounds 362m to pounds 352m and next year's from pounds 405m to pounds 380m. James Capel lowered its estimate for this year from pounds 377m to pounds 355m and is expected to cut next year's estimate.

Prospects for BOC's Suprane anaesthetic are one worry nagging Goldman. Forane, for long BOC's main anaesthetic player, is under intense generic pressure in the US since its patent expired.

Other chemicals gave ground. Imperial Chemical Industries, with Capel saying sell, fell 9p to 639p. Courtaulds lost another 7p to 549p.

Jefferson Smurfit, the packaging group, was another hit by profit downgradings. Irish analysts moved from around Ir pounds 115m to about I pounds r105m. The shares fell 8p to 220p.

Drug shares had another poor session. Glaxo Holdings fell 7p to 546p, SmithKline Beecham 5.5p to 424p and Wellcome 7p to 648p.

Electricity shares, reflecting the dividend race, provided the only significant bright spot. With many utility analysts suggesting a switch out of water, where regulatory fears bubble, there were gains throughout the list. Waters, however, could not muster a solitary advance.

LWT (Holdings), the London television contractor, remained in the spotlight with the preference shares edging forward 2p to 478p. This week Granada Group, in a spectacular raid, snapped up a 14.9 per cent shareholding. It is expected to try to buy another 5 per cent next week and eventually move to 29.9 per cent, the takeover trigger level. Granada lost 2p to 418p.

Supermarkets were weak, with the Asda results failing to encourage any inspirational moves. Asda fell 6p to 65.5p. Its comments about overcapacity helped to clip Argyll Group 8p to 317p, J Sainsbury 12p to 467p and Tesco 4p to 211p.

British Steel remained under pressure on worries about its price increases sticking. The shares fell 3.5p to 89p.

Securiguard, the messenger and security group, jumped 25p to 340p as Rentokil duly increased its offer from 270p to 345p and picked up a 29.7 per cent interest.

Maddox, the Hugo Biermann vehicle, fell 1.25p to 4.5p as trading fell below expectations. Crabtree, the specialist printing systems group, which recently came to market through a reverse takeover, gained 11p to 214p.

Nesco Investments, a computer group, slipped 2p to 38p. Talks for a substantial takeover have been called off.

Rubicon returned at 144p, down 4p from the suspension price. It is taking over HSP, a maker of metal components, for pounds 9m. A rights issue is being made to produce pounds 7m.

Nu-Swift, the firefighter, fell 25p to 333p following the profit decline, passing of the dividend and planned privatisation.

The Wiggins building group, suspended in April, is on its way back to the market. A placing and rights issue at 2.5p is being handled by the stockbrokers Peel Hunt and Charlton Seal. Dealings should restart early next month. Wiggins, dating back to 1919, is the second quoted company, following Regal Hotels, to return following a company voluntary arrangement. The shares were suspended at 9p.

The Kuwait Investment Office has sold another of its remaining UK equity stakes - its 12.3 per cent shareholding in Bradstock, an insurance broker. It is not clear where the shares went, but a placing among institutions seems the most likely move. Bradstock shares slipped 1p to 140p. Last month the company reported an 8 per cent profit increase to pounds 4.57m for the six months to end-March.

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