Market Report: Oil giants expected to ride out 'fix' storm

Laura Chesters@LauraHChesters
Thursday 16 May 2013 01:32

While Westminster worried about the scale of an oil price-fixing scandal, the City took a more sanguine view. Tuesday's raid of the oil giants' offices by the European Commission – the start of an investigation into allegations of fixing that could have affected millions of motorists – fuelled fears that the oil majors are facing their very own version of the banks' Libor disgrace.

But oil experts played down the potential size of the problem yesterday.

ING's Quirijn Mulder said "the difference with the Libor scandal is that the energy market is truly worldwide, with prices volatile and reacting to all sorts of news. The number of players in that market is very high," which suggests that fixing is harder to do. RBC Capital's Peter Hutton said that the fact the investigation is in its early stages means it is "hard to see … what we should be reacting to".

The London-listed oil giants were down, but there was no large sell-off. Shell suffered a 55p slide to 2,300.5p while BP dipped 0.95p to 467.6p.

One of the companies raided was the price information firm Platts.

There are suspicions that oil companies may have colluded when delivering information to Platts on the prices of crude oil, oil products and biofuels, potentially distorting benchmarks, and some smaller companies have said they have been excluded from the pricing process. It is this that had led to concerns there could be wider price-rigging.

The Prime Minister said the allegations of price fixing are "deeply worrying" and the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, promised that the "full force of the law" would be brought down on the companies if the allegations were found to be true.

But Mr Mulder added, "nothing has been proven yet, and it could take years before there is any outcome."

The wider market began the day in negative territory after eurozone GDP was below consensus forecasts.

But after the Bank of England's Governor, Sir Mervyn King, in his last quarterly Inflation Report, predicted a faster fall in UK inflation and forecast a "brighter economic outlook", the FTSE 100 finished the day up 7.49 points at 6,693.55.

The water group Severn Trent rejected a £5bn takeover approach from a consortium of Canadian and Kuwaiti investors, and the shares flowed up another 13p to 2,090p.

The London Stock Exchange, which revealed a 5 per cent rise in full-year income, said it was seeking partnerships with fast-growing exchanges. It expanded 71p to 1,406p.

Polymetal got a boost from analysts at Liberum Capital, who lifted their rating to buy from hold with a price target of 780p, but it declined 57.5p to 654.75p.

Investec began coverage of the recently listed small-cap insurer esure. It rated it a sell, and asked is "Sheilas' Wheels driving on a puncture?". It said the company's key differentiator to target older, low-risk and female drivers will be "increasingly hard … to maintain" after the EU December 2012 gender ruling, so sell at 201p. The shares drove down 1.25p to 313.75p.

Lonrho, the 104-year-old African focused conglomerate, agreed to a £175m takeover bid from two Swiss businessmen yesterday. The fund manager Rainer-Marc Frey and Switzerland's fourth-wealthiest man, Thomas Schmidheiny, already own 20 per cent of Lonrho through their bid vehicle FS Africa, and have won approval for a 10.25p-a-share bid from directors and other investors owning a further 18 per cent. Lonrho travelled up 4.7p to 9.9p.

Frankie & Benny's owner The Restaurant Group said total sales were up 11 per cent and like-for-like sales up 4.5 per cent for the first 19 weeks of this year. The 400-restaurants chain served up a 33.1p rise to 519p.

Film fans are visiting the cinema more often and spending more while they are there and cinema group Cineworld has benefited, it said. But the shares were 0.25p weaker at 325p.

Retail investors' favourite, Aim-listed Gulf Keystone, gushed 20.5p to 149.5p following expectations of better news from the company after blows including its court case with Excalibur Ventures.

The student digs provider GCP Student Living, which is due to list on Monday, has beaten its £50m target and raised £70m through a placing.

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