War-Fear Oil Price 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 a barrel.

That was the stark warning doing the rounds in financial markets today as the price of North Sea crude climbed seven cents to $28.97.

US light crude reached 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 9 1/2p to 426p, Shell 12 3/4p to 407 3/4p, and BG Group 2 1/4p to 257 3/4p.

Among the second liners Cairn Energy rose 5 1/2p to 296p. Broker Credit Suisse First Boston is urging clients to switch out of BG into BP.

The rest of the market ticked better in thin trading on the last full day of trading before Christmas.

The FTSE 100 index managed to claw its way back above 3900 with a rise of 18.2 points to 3908.1.

Whitbread marked its return to the Footsie today following the quarterly reshuffle with a fall of 21 1/2p to 521p. It has been joined by property developer Liberty International, down 10p at 561p, and British Airways, down 6 1/4p at 138 3/4p.

Steelmaker Corus, 2p cheaper at 24p on turnover of 26 million shares, has dropped down to the FTSE 250 index.

Satellite broadcaster BSkyB lost an early lead to trade 2p off at 632p.

Broker Investec has put a value on the shares of 880p.

Regus, the office-space supplier, retreated 3 1/2p to 11p after it emerged Indigo Capital had bought a further nine million shares, raising its total holding to 61.4 million, or 10%.

Speculative buying hoisted fitness chain Holmes Place 9 1/2p to 86p. Talk of a management buyout at 143p has intensified.

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. …

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