Oil powers ahead of the field

Review of the year

SECTOR-by-sector, the kudos went to oil exploration and production, up a strong 51.4 per cent by the year end - or a 36.75 per cent outperformance against the FTSE All Share index. Most of the gains reflect the remarkable turnaround in oil prices, with Brent up from just over $16 a barrel at the start of the year, to $23 a barrel by the year end.

The sector has also been helped by some strong individual success stories. After several years in the wilderness, Lasmo (+31.3 per cent) has recovered some of its poise, to become a darling of the stock market, coupled with an excellent exploration story.

There has been recurrent takeover speculation throughout the year, with the bid by Canada's Gulf Resources for Clyde Petroleum (+104.3 per cent) earlier this month giving the sector a final end-of-season fillip.

Support services is the closest approximation in the UK to a general high-tech sector, embracing as it does stocks such as Logica (+98.6 per cent), with a fine performance, and Sage, the accountancy software supplier, and Sema, another computer services business.

Finally, leisure, boosted to a large extent by the daddy of the sector, Granada, was still on a roll after its Forte acquisition. The prices it has secured for some of its hotel disposals also boosted other hotel stocks in the sector. It also includes football, another great white hope, as the jackpot promised by digital television and pay-per-view draws nearer.

On the down side, there were probably no surprises. Investors in textiles had an appalling year, with the sector down 26.27 per cent (33.4 per cent against the index), as British manufacturers once again succumbed to an onslaught of foreign competition.

Diversified industrials, another term for that most out-of-fashion stock market concept, the conglomerate, were also friendless. While for the canny investor a number of shares performed well, the sector was marred by the likes of Hanson, (-32 per cent) and Tomkins (-4 per cent).

Tobaccos, now comprising two shares, BAT, and Imperial Tobacco, were the subject of recurring litigation fears.

Best and worst-performing sectors

Winners % change

Oil exploration and production 51.40

Support services 46.02

Leisure and hotels 23.75

Retail banks 23.33

Property 23.07

Media 22.86

Oil, integrated 22.23

Engineering, vehicles 21.56

Financials 21.40

Transport 21.07

Losers

Electricity 1.11

Building materials and merchants -0.13

Chemicals -0.40

Household goods -3.65

Extractive industries -4.91

Alcoholic beverages -7.38

Gas distribution -9.65

Tobacco -16.73

Diversified industrials -17.47

Textiles and apparel -26.27

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