Oil strikes fuel excitement for BP and BG shares

MARKET REPORT

There is nothing like old-fashioned oil strikes to fuel stock market excitement. Shares of BG, the old British Gas, have enjoyed a powerful run on finds, real and rumoured, and yesterday it was the turn of British Petroleum, up 21.5p to 859p, to hit the high road on a discovery off Angola.

BP, suing pressure group Greenpeace for pounds 1.4m, is part of a consortium headed by Elf Aquitaine. According to the French group, the well has tested a cumulative flow rate of 16,000 barrels a day.

BG, 1.5p higher at 254p, was riding at a peak until last week's slump. The market had been excited by oil and gas finds off Trinidad, in the North Sea and off-shore Egypt.

The once-ailing gas group is rumoured to have struck it rich in Indonesia but drilling there continues and any development before the middle of next month is unlikely.

The group, clearly enjoying its status as an increasingly influential oil and gas explorer, kept up the momentum by disclosing Texaco had taken a 20 per cent interest in its potentially rich Kazakhstan field which it runs with ENI, the Italian energy giant.

NatWest Securities believes BG is still a buy, despite its strong display in the past few months. It upgraded its asset valuation from 240p to 280p.

Interim figures, the first since the Centrica demerger, are due next month. A share buyback and sale of underperforming assets may be on the agenda, says NatWest which also repeated its buy advice on Shell, up 14p at 430.5p.

The rest of the market staged an impressive rally. Footsie opened in determined style with a 43.3-point jump and went on to close with a 79.2 gain to 4,914.2.

Financials and drugs, two sectors behind this year's Footsie push, led the comeback.

HSBC, the banking giant, ignored the Hong Kong share retreat as Dresdner Kleinwort Benson gave a 79.5p push to 2,176.5p by emphasising its 2,600p target. There was talk HSBC, known to be seeking acquisitions and consequently linked with an array of available banks, had set its sights on Commerzbank, the German group.

Other financials to move ahead included Standard Chartered, another with Hong Kong exposure, up 47.5p to 1,044p.

The Hong Kong nerves were, however, reflected in some of the specialist Far Eastern investment trusts with Fleming Far Eastern off 6p to 298.5p.

Barclays, up 11p to 1,393.5p, enjoyed a modest buyback excursion, picking up 1 million shares at 1,386.76p.

Hambros, the under-pressure merchant bank, rose 10p to 227.5p. It turned down a bid from Fishers International, the Irish financial group little changed at 18.5p, for its controlling interest in Hambros Insurance Services, up 1p at 95p.

Drugs rose on the back of US interest with Glaxo Wellcome 36p higher to 1,231.5p and Zeneca 52p to 1,942p.

British Aerospace ignored an SBC Warburg buy (1,700p target), softening 3p to 1,446p. Warburg had better luck with engineer FKI, up 2p to 197p; it suggested a 230p price.

Allied Domecq frothed 11p to 479.5p on an ABN Amro Hoare Govett forecast of a 10 per cent upside and expectations other investment houses will adopt a more positive tone.

WH Smith, the newsagent, hardened 16.5p to 375.5p on a Cazenove push and talk of corporate action with speculation stretching from a break- up to a Tesco bid.

Laura Ashley looked more threadbare, off 1p to 55.5p following its latest setback.

MFI, the furniture chain, firmed 4p to 159p with Hoare saying the shares were undervalued.

Southern Electric, the only electricity distributor to avoid a bid, improved 5p to 454p on Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull support.

Sears, where arch bears PDFM lifted its stake to 20.6 per cent, held at 62p. Nikko, the investment house, has a sell sign over the shares.

It believes the struggling retailing group "will be lucky" to produce a half-year profit and points out there are market worries whether the dividend will be held.

Year's profits are expected to be pounds 50m before exceptionals against pounds 140.2m in 1995.

Asks the securities house: "Who wants to be left holding the rump once Freemans is sold and Selfridges demerged?"

Kenwood, the kitchen appliance group, recovered most of Monday's fall after rival Pifco let it be known it still hovered and had not given up hopes of bidding.

The shares rose 11.5p to 115p.

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