Market Report: Smoke signal from Citi says Imps looks like a buy


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The Independent Online

If in doubt, smoke.

That was the message from Citigroup, which put a light under Imperial Tobacco, up nearly 2 per cent or 36p at 2289p, which it recommends as a buy. The US bank notes Imps has risen every December in the past decade but usually falls in January, with an average decline of 3 percent, as investors start the year favouring less defensive stocks.

"This year the trend has been particularly marked, but we think it represents a good opportunity to buy into a company that's now at about 11 times (current year) 2012 price-earnings and where earnings growth is both decent (about 8-9 percent ex-currency) and very secure," said Citigroup.

The strong showing by Imps, which has a £23bn market cap, couldn't help prop up the FTSE 100 index, which ended the week on an whimper rather than a bang.

After shares reached a six-month high on Thursday just shy of the 5800 mark, the blue-chip index tumbled more than 1 per cent, down 61.75 points to 5,733.45.

It is further ammunition for the bears who cannot see the FTSE 100 trading outside a 5000-5800 range until the Eurozone's woes are resolved properly.

The woes of BP, one of the Footsie's biggest constituents, also put downward pressure on the index. The oil giant's shares slumped by 2.6 per cent, down 12.2p to 464.55p, as BP suffered a setback in its bid to share the billions of dollars of costs arising from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

A US judge has ruled that BP must cover all compensation damage claims relating to the role played by Transocean, the drilling contractor in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. These could potentially to run into billions of dollars. The ruling paved the way for a similar decision in relation to Halliburton, the company responsible for the cement casing of the failed Macondo well.

Transocean went to court to determine liability for claims over the spill, arguing that a clause in its contract indemnified it against "all claims". Halliburton has filed a similar suit, which is pending.

Iain Pyle, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein, said: "The read across has to be that the Halliburton result will be very similar as this case sets a precedent." While BP shares fell, Transocean's shares initially shot up 8 per cent in New York.

Other energy and commodity stocks also struggled after a strong day on Thursday, notably Kazakhmys which was off nearly 3 per cent, down 34p at 1160p.

Energy never goes out of fashion. Edison Research reckons that the small-cap oil and gas sector is undervalued after pressure on financing during 2011, despite the robustness of crude prices.

"Many companies that have struggled to get high-quality projects away are now looking over their shoulder at potential M&A vultures," said Edison in a note. "Oil and gas resources do not just disappear into thin air, so when equity markets discount company values well below fundamentals it is only natural for more cash-rich third parties to move in."

Edison added: "When adjusted for crude prices, the AIM Oil & Gas index trades today at near-record lows. Asset values have never been cheaper."

The research house didn't single out any companies but the market has been buzzing since last weekend about Rockhopper Exploration, down 2p at 339p, and a possible tie-up with Andarko Petroleum. The chatter is that possible targets for the "M&A vultures" could be Bowleven, up 1.75p at 81.75p, and Xcite Energy, slipping 0.25p at 96.5p. Both those stocks are down by roughly three-quarters in a year.

There was a Friday to forget among some of the small-cap stocks. Model railway and Scalextric toy maker Hornby suffered a train wreck, crashing 18 per cent or 22.5p to a near-three-year low of 101p as consumers cut back.

Marketing group Creston, home of pollsters ICM, saw its shares nose-dive by almost a quarter, after it warned on the outlook. "Shares remain lowly rated on our new forecasts, suggesting the market was discounting some risk in H2 [second-half-year] delivery," said Creston's broker Investec optimistically. The shares fell 15.6p to 51p.

It's always good to get out of the office and broker Panmure Gordon had interesting news about a meeting with kids and maternity group Mothercare. "We reiterate our Sell rating, following a catch-up with Mothercare," said the broker. "The turnaround of Mothercare's UK business is likely to take in excess of two years." Mothercare shares, which ended the day flat at 197p, are down more than 60 per cent in the last year.

Still, as Royal Bank of Scotland boss Stephen Hester can testify, even a bad year does not mean the end of the world. The bank's shares, down more than a third in a year, ticked up 0.25 per cent, or 0.07p, to 27.74p. That fraction of a penny matters as it means Hester's controversial 3.6 million share bonus rises to £998,600.

FTSE 100 Risers

Next 2639p (up 45p, 1.7 per cent)

Retailing giant is proving to be a strong defensive play against the high street, thanks to the mail order directory and online business.

BSkyB 677p (up 5.5p, 0.8 per cent)

Optimism is growing ahead of half-year results next week as shares in the pay-TV giant look cheap after displaying weakness in past month.

FTSE 100 Fallers

CRH 1279p (down 26p, 2 per cent)

Irish building giant has jumped 19% in last quarter, so Liberum Capital downgrades to a hold to wait for "better opportunities".generally positive note on the sector.

GlaxoSmithKline 1421p (down 20.5p, 1.4 per cent)

Drugs giant has seen a string of non-executive directors step down, including controversial BSkyB supremo James Murdoch..

FTSE 250 Risers

Misys 326.8p (up 21.5p, 7 per cent)

IT firm recovers all its losses after Thursday's weak results. Panmure Gordon warns shares will fall if "takeover chitchat" does not materialise.

Brewin Dolphin 155.6p (up 7.5p, 5 per cent)

Wealth management giant appears more focused as it looks to complete long-awaited sell off its corporate broking arm next week.

FTSE 250 Fallers

Premier Oil 418.3p (down 15.6p, 3.6 per cent)

Profit-taking in North Sea-to-Mauritania explorer after enjoying a decent run since trading statement issued last week.

Bumi 847.5p (down 27.5p, 3.1 per cent)

Swiss tax exile Nat Rothschild's closely watched energy company falls in line with the wider sector in the midst of uncertainty over the outlook.