Oil Price War-Fear Rise Spills over into Shares; Market Report

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Byline: MICHAEL CLARK

WAR with Iraq could send the price of oil soaring to $50 (pound sterling31) a barrel. That was the stark warning doing the rounds in financial markets today as the price of North Sea crude climbed 56 cents to $28.90.

Supplies of US light crude topped more than $30. Brokers say the price is benefiting from increased speculation about the start of hostilities in the Gulf.

That spilled over into the share market where the big oil producers were being marked higher. BP rose 6p to 4221/2p, Shell 51/2p to 4001/2p, and BG Group 3p to 2581/2p.

Among the second liners Cairn Energy rose 41/2p to 295p.

The rest of the market ticked better on the last full day of trading before Christmas. Supported by Friday's surge in the Dow over on Wall Street, the FTSE 100 index rose 14.5 to 3904.4.

Whitbread celebrated its return to the Footsie 100 today following the quarterly reshuffle with a rise of 31/2p to 546p. It has been joined by property developer Liberty International, unchanged on 571p, and British Airways, down 3p at 142p. Joining the FTSE 250 was Cox Insurance, 1p better at 79p. The spread between bid and offer briefly widened from 2p to 5p before broker Merrill Lynch went on and bid for shares.

Satellite broadcaster BSkyB rose 4p to 638p as broker Investec put a value on the shares of 880p. Reuters advanced 51/4p to 194p on reports the group plans to sell its remaining 64% stake in online securities trader Instinet to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Goldshield says it will "vigorously" defend itself against allegations that it had conspired with two other pharmaceutical suppliers to cheat the NHS by illegally fixing the price of the anticoagulant Warfarin. Goldshield tumbled 105p to 2221/2p after receiving a claim for damages from the Health Secretary together with the NHS relating to sales that took place between 1996 and 2000. …