Oil shares gush as tension in Iraq boosts crude price

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Oils disturbed the stock market's slumber. The deepening tension in Iraq pushed the crude price sharply higher, prompting the predictable knee-jerk reaction among oil shares. The latest encounter increases the risk to the West's oil supplies at a time the crude market is experiencing its normal winter build-up.

The Iraqi flare up has already ended, for the foreseeable future, the proposed food-for-oil deal that would have allowed Saddam Hussein to pour limited amounts of Iraqi oil on to world market.

British Petroleum led the pack higher, gaining 9p to a 646p peak. Shell rose 8.5p to 966.5p; Enterprise Oil 7.5p to 524.5p and Burmah Castrol 7.5p to 1,113.5p.

The rest of the market had difficulty managing a yawn. Despite another flood of largely encouraging company results investor interest was again low with the two leading indices forced to give ground in thin trading.

Thorn, the rental side of the old Thorn EMI combination, suffered the expected humiliation of being kicked out of Footsie at the first call over. A place had to be found for LucasVarity and Thorn's poor performance since the demerger made it the obvious casualty. The rental group, little changed at 369.5p, has suffered this week from worries some US states plan to tighten their consumer credit rules. Lucas fell 1.5p to 238p.

RTZ, the mining giant, had an uneasy session ahead of interim figures due today. Shares of CRA, its Australian sister, experienced a weak run, prompting suspicions the results could contain some nasty surprises. RTZ fell 27p to 930.5p. BTR, ahead of its crucial figures today, shaded 2p to 266p.

Barclays, the banking group, was the best-performing blue chip, up 20p to 948.5p on suggestions Credit Lyonnais Laing had turned bullish. Abbey National put on 8.5p to 602p, reflecting Panmure Gordon support.

Reuters' intriguing share buy-back lifted the shares 14p to 764p. It is to hand to shareholders some pounds 600m of its pounds 900m cash pile through special shares which will pay six dividends of 125p over the next three years.

Matthew Clark, the cider maker, had another crushing time. The shares crashed 75.5p to 355.5p, an astonishing 314.5p decline since Tuesday's profit warning. The fall would no doubt have been even steeper if the powerful PDFM fund management group had not decided to move into the market and buy 1.7 million shares, lifting its shareholding to 18.8 per cent.

Matthew Clark said it had been hit by the growth of alco-pops. Its big rival HP Bulmer, unchanged at 552.5p, meets its shareholders today.

Scotia, the drugs group, was another under pressure for the second day, falling 29p to 662.5p, making a 71p decline.

British Biotech fell 6p to 199p. There was talk Glaxo Wellcome had decided to end its relationship over an asthma drug. Glaxo, down 7p to 941p, has for some time had an option to evaluate BritBio's asthma treatment.

Racal Electronics was firm at 300p ahead of an analysts' meeting and T&N, another entertaining analysts, lost 2p to 138.5p.

Hunting, the aviation group, flew 5.5p higher to 144p on suggestions Cobham could be considering a strike; the agreed offer for British Data Management nudged the shares 2p higher to 176.5p; bidder Mentmore Abbey rose 5p to 87p.

British Steel fell 3.25p to 188.75p on Merrill Lynch caution and utilities suffered from the Labour Party's planned shake-up.

Anagen lost 9p to 23.5p after warning a cash-raising operation, through a private placing of convertible loan stock, was under way. The shares of the healthcare group topped 100p last year.

Ahead of figures today Memory Corporation, repairing defective computer chips, lost 3.5p to 31p. The results are expected to be depressingly weak. Memory is thought to have been devastated by the collapse in chip prices.

Easynet was another under pressure, falling 7p to 46p. The Internet service provider has had a worrying time since enjoying a high-profile debut on AIM in March. Placed at 100p, the shares shot to 130p before starting what has been a steady decline.

Eurodis Electron, the electronic components distributor, lost 12p to 185.5p following an uninspiring trading statement. Earlier this year the shares were riding above 300p as the market awaited a take-over bid, to be triggered by the signalled sale of Swiss group Elektrowatt's 42 per cent shareholding. But the Swiss failed to find a buyer.

TAKING STOCK

rRonson's pounds 10.4m cash call looks like flopping. Shares of the former brewery, being reshaped as an international luxury goods group by former funeral undertaker Howard Hodgson, fell to 25.5p, just 0.5p above the rights price.

The nil paid halved to 1p. A US small companies fund, Albion, is pumping in pounds 1m for a 5 per cent stake and sub underwriting the rights; it could end with 22.3 per cent. Ronson's profits were decimated by a fire at its Newcastle factory.

rWatermark, a promotions group run by a former stockbroker John Caulcutt, should produce profits of more than pounds 500,000 this year against a pounds 60,000 loss last time.

It arrived on AIM last month at 13p; the shares are currently 20p.

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