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Market Report: Slump in the price of crude sends oil shares sliding

Oil shares ran dry as the crude price slumped and investment houses pulled back their forecasts.

British Petroleum fell 41p to 765p and Shell 22p to 426p, helping to push the oil sector down by approaching 5 per cent. In the autumn BP was riding at 956.5p and Shell at 484.5p.

With Iraq at last resuming exporting, mild weather in the US and the Asian turmoil the crude price is under intense pressure and has fallen sharply.

Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull piled on the agony. The American securities house cut its crude estimate for this year by $1 to $17 a barrel. Only a few months ago the analyst Peter Nicol lowered his forecast by $3 to $18.

John Toalster at SocGen reduced his crude estimates for this year and next from $17 to $17.80 and $18.70 respectively. He moved his stance on the sector from buy to neutral.

Lasmo was lowered 9p to 265p and Enterprise Oil 12p to 574p.

The oil retreat undermined the rest of the stock market although Footsie, encouraged by futures influences, managed to end 1.9 points higher at 5,264.4. At one time it was off 41.7.

The supporting shares outperformed their peers with the FTSE 250 index up 30.2 to 4,858.9; even the FTSE SmallCap managed a 6.8 gain to 2,335.3p.

Insurers were again the main Footsie spur. Hopes of more buy backs as well as improved margins lifted Royal & Sun Alliance 40p to 658p and Sun Life & Provincial 22p to 495p. Other financials made headway. Woolwich starred with a 13p gain to 338p, a peak, and Bank of Scotland rose 18p to 592.5p.

Norwich Union, the insurer, was another recent recruit to reach a high. Its bonus statement was well received but the conviction is growing that the former mutual will not see out the year as an independent group. The shares rose 8.25p at 406p, capitalising the group at around pounds 8bn.

Cadbury Schweppes enjoyed support from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and SBC Warburg, gaining 15p to 630p. Warburg produced a 780p target. The investment house also gave Booker, the food group, a friendly nudge, pushing the shares 13p higher to 333.5p.

Engineer GKN moved ahead 58p to 1,335p following its Canadian helicopter deal and bullish comments from Lehman Brothers and Warburg which is looking for the price to reach 1,500p.

Granada put on 35p to 990p, seemingly drawing belated benefit from a number of analysts' comments. Ladbroke, up 14p to 288p, was another in catch-up mode - in this case the Coral takeover.

Burton's trading statement left the shares 3p higher at 143p but failed to allay fears of poor festive trading by some retailers.

Clinton Cards, the greeting cards chain, produced an upbeat statement; the shares rose 6.5p to 105p. Its performance encouraged WH Smith, up 8p to 400p. Henderson Crosthwaite caution lowered Dixons, reporting next week, 6.5p to 596p. The house was, however, positive on Kingfisher, 13.5p firmer at 876.5p. Analyst briefings helped Hillsdown Holdings 6.5p harder at 155.5p.

Olives Property added 6.25p to 38p following a bid approach and a 65p offer for the JLI food group prompted a 7.5p gain to 63.5p. Activity at the printing group Fairway indicated the signalled bid action could be near. The shares rose 3p to 65.5p.

Cambridge Mineral Resources ended 1.75p lower at 17.25p after confirming the takeover of South Atlantic Resources, exploring for minerals in the Falkland Islands.

Emerald Energy held at 6p. Monument Oil & Gas is splashing out $7.3m for a 14 per cent stake in one of its Colombian wells. The long drilling programme continues at its Chawina 2 well; the results should be known within two weeks.

Albion, the menswear manufacturer, cut a 20p dash to 70p after a sharp profits advance and dividend increase.

Blick, the electronics group, hardened 17.5p to 297.5p ahead. There is vague talk of corporate action.

The yearly shareholders' meeting is due next month. Last year profits fell from pounds 15.3m to pounds 12.9m.