Options flurry sounds the alert over oil group Lasmo

MARKET REPORT
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The Independent Online
Intriguing option trading sent shares of Lasmo, the oil group which escaped the clutches of Enterprise Oil two years ago, spinning 5p higher to 184p, equalling their highest level in the past four years.

The flurry put the stock market on alert as the option buyers alighted on the February calls.

Lasmo is regarded as a prime beneficiary of the recent hardening of crude oil prices but the option interest suggests something more exciting than trading prospects fuelled the buying.

When the group clashed with Enterprise it was the market which flushed out the bid. After a bitter confrontation, which many thought started the problems of Enterprise's adviser, SG Warburg, Lasmo lived to fight another day.

Enterprise, in a last ditch assault, controversially picked up 9.8 per cent of Lasmo's capital. It sold the stake last year.

The share sale would appear to rule out a renewed Enterprise strike. Indeed it was so badly bruised in the encounter it is likely to want to keep well away from Lasmo which, because of its dismal record, had looked a sitting duck in 1994. Five years ago its shares approached 400p; the Enterprise bid was worth 165p.

A US bid for Australia's third largest oil group seems to have created a flare among the medium-sized oil groups. A US assault on Lasmo is regarded as the most likely development. In the past week the shares have risen 19.5p.

The rest of the market wilted in the face of the latest IRA bomb outrage, growing political uncertainty and the lack of any inspiration from New York, closed for holidays. Falls of up to pounds 11/2 by government stocks added to the gloom.

Few investors felt confident enough to take much action and the 26.6 point fall by the FT-SE 100 index was due more to lack of buying than any selling pressure.

Even the supporting FT-SE 250 index, which had been climbing new peaks, settled for a downbeat session.

Royal Bank of Scotland had an eventful session. Weekend reports of an HSBC offer sent the shares up 11p to 590p. Then came the denial. For a time the shares lost their enthusiasm. But the bid argument won the day and by the close the shares were holding a 6p gain at 585p.

National Westminster Bank, buying Gartmore, gained 6p to 713p. The terms failed to excite the rest of the sector.

Granada had a difficult time as the IRA bomb made its big hotel sell- off even more difficult. The shares fell 14p to 724p. Ladbroke also felt the blast, off 5p at 186p. The Groupe Chez Gerard restaurant chain was lowered 11p to 217p.

Media shares remained in demand. But Carlton Communications continued to sink, down 7p at 1,016p, as the market braced itself for its intervention in the United News & Media and MAI merger. But Scottish Television, 20p at 735p, and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, 17p to 1,045p, were among those making headway.

Pearson, 6p to 713p, Mirror Group Newspapers, 6p to 219p, and The Telegraph, 9p to 483p, were firm.

Pilkington, down 4p to 213p, fell on SBC Warburg take-profits advice and Vickers ran out of takeover fuel, falling 9p to 284p.

Trafalgar House, the hard pressed engineering and shipping group, fell 1.25p to 38.25p as the fund manager PDFM, which last year had about 11 per cent of the capital, underlined it was prepared to bite the bullet and had reduced its interest to below 3 per cent.

Nurdin & Peacock, the cash and carry wholesaler, improved 5.5p to 156p on the growing suspicion that SHV, the Dutch investment group, will take advantage of its difficulties, bidding to increase its stake to more than 50 per cent.

SHV already has 14 per cent and has made no secret of its ambition to have a bigger say in N&P's affairs. Earlier this month N&P produced a profit warning, suggesting the year's results will be around pounds 20m against hopes of pounds 28m.

Eurodis Electron moved ahead 11p to 308p as the 42 per cent stake sale by Elektrowatt, the Swiss group, was, not for the first time, thought to be near.

Matthew Clark, the cider group, improved 9p to 687p on James Capel support and Regent Inns jumped 27p to 826p on better-than-expected figures.

Birse, the construction group, continued to celebrate its return to profit, gaining 3p to 20.5p.

TAKING STOCK

rThe long rumoured Indonesian sale by Plantation & General Investments is at last thought to be near. The company is believed to be in talks to sell a 1,000 hectare property to the Indonesian government for approaching pounds 10m. P&G held at 59p.

rPan Andean, seeking oil in Bolivia, is daily hitting new highs. The price gained 2p to 41p on rumours a leading institutional investor has been detected showing strong interest in the stock. In December the shares were down to 12.5p.

rBodycote, the engineering group, is expected to make steady headway. Albert E Sharp, the stockbroker, sees profits last year climbing pounds 2.8m to pounds 18m with pounds 27.5m likely in 1997. The shares stuck at 454p, a 12 month high.

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