Market Report: Gulf Keystone puts on a victory spurt

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The Independent Online

Usually punters need news of fresh oil to get them excited, but yesterday it was a court case in London that sent Gulf Keystone Petroleum spurting up more than 16 per cent.

After a long-running dispute, a court ruled in favour of Gulf and against Excalibur Ventures which had claimed it had rights to 30 per cent of Gulf's assets in Iraq's oil rich region of Kurdistan.

The shares had been suspended yesterday morning pending the court case and returned to the market at midday. The retail investors' favourite remained as popular as ever and on news of its victory it gushed up 31.5p to 219.25p. The market was then quick to suggest the group could now be a takeover target.

But Dragan Trajkov, an analyst at Westhouse, said: "We believe that the market's perception is that the conclusion of the case removes an obstacle towards the sale of Gulf. However, we believe that the main obstacle for a potential sale is political uncertainty in Kurdistan rather than the litigation case. Thus, we think this may be a good exit opportunity for investors."

While VSA analysts said Gulf is no longer the "only player in town" and crucially, the "majors have decided to take up their own exploration acreage, rather than acquire discovered assets or companies with such assets. We do not completely discount a takeover, but it seems like a less likely outcome than it did before."

Gulf has been going to great lengths to appoint new independent directors and it has split executive chairman Todd Kozel's role ahead of its plans to more to London's main market.

Across the wider market, traders' concerns about US military action in Syria waned when Russia offered to help put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The reduced tensions put traders in a positive mood as did better-than-expected industrial production numbers from China. The FTSE 100 climbed 53.25 points to 6,583.99.

The good Chinese figures also helped miners advance: Rio Tinto was 87p stronger at 3217.5p, commodities giant Glencore Xstrata advanced up 7.45p to 328.75p as it promised investors it would slash costs, shelve risky projects and squeeze more benefits from its takeover of Xstrata.

But gold diggers were less fortunate – the price of gold fell as its attractions as a safe haven were reduced as the fears of war eased.

Gold specialist Randgold Resources tarnished 225p to 4,689p and Fresnillo slipped 44p to 1,225p.

Airline stocks soared as fuel got cheaper again – Brent crude futures were down to a one-week low. EasyJet soared 91p to 1,358p and took the top spot on the blue chip index while British Airways-owner IAG flew up 14.3p to 319.8p, and Irish budget carrier Ryanair was €0.16 better at €6.27. Coffee to hotels business Whitbread reported a slow down at its Costa Coffee arm, where first quarter growth of 8 per cent dropped to 3 per cent in the second quarter and it declined 78p to 3,138p.

Concerns about competition from generic rivals for lung drug Advair by GlaxoSmithKline hit the pharmaceuticals giant after a draft guidance document was issued by the US Food and Drug Administration. It was 41.5p weaker at 1598.5p.

City scribblers took a trip to Oxford Street to hear about Marks & Spencer's new product plans but some were less than impressed. Analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald rated it a sell with a 445p price target because its improvements are just "another step in a long journey". They did admit the "product and presentation in the remodelled Oxford Street store represented more than a subtle change but a big improvement on previous store iterations" and it was in vogue for some and it added 10p to 510.5p.

Over on the mid-tier table, Ocado the online grocer was popular, up 15p at 365p, ahead of its third-quarter trading update and analyst tour later this week.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 index itself was in fine fettle and reached a new record high, up 177.87 points to 15,270.73.

Mr Kipling cakes and Bisto-maker Premier Foods was boosted by analysts at Shore Capital who upgraded it to buy, from hold, with a 149p price target because a refinancing through "£250m of new equity and £350m corporate bonds could yield 42.5 per cent share price upside". The group gobbled up 16.75p to 166.5p.

First-quarter gold production was way ahead of expectations at Aim-listed Orosur Mining and it glistened 6.5p brighter at 17.4p.

Aim-tiddler Nostra Terra announced a 200 per cent return on its first Colorado well and the drilling of a new one and edged up 0.015p to 0.41p. The construction and fit out services group ISG reported full-year operating profits up 20 per cent and built up 15.5p to 216.5p.