Market report

BP drives oil stocks higher, NatWest share sale looms

BP enjoyed a surge in its shares

Shares in energy giant BP leapt 5.62% to 479p on the back of a $1.75bn share buyback anbd despite a sharp fall in annual profits due to falling oil prices.

Although down, the profit is its second biggest in a decade and the announcement drove other oil and gas explorers higher as prices of the black stuff edged higher.  Ithaca Energy, owner of the Cambo field in the North Sea, ended the day up 2¾p, or 2 per cent, to 132½p.

There has been more speculation that the UK Government is gearing up for a significant public share offer of NatWest stocks, possibly as early as June, marking it as the most notable public offering since the Royal Mail IPO in 2013. UK Government Investments (UKGI) has echoed Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s hints last month of a summer sale.

The financial rescue of NatWest, previously Royal Bank of Scotland, during the 2008-2009 crisis came at a substantial cost of £45.5bn to the Government, averaging 520p per share.

The shares currently trade at 219p, indicating a substandial loss for the taxpayer. Howevever, the Treasury wants the stock off its books and even at this price a sale would put money in the kitty.

Mr Hunt is expected to unveil more information in the Budget on 6 March.

Among yesterday’s losers, Aston Martin Lagonda slid 7.25p to 176.75p following reports the luxury carmaker is again on the hunt for a new chief executive.

After four days in negative territory, the FTSE 100 rebounded with a 68.15 points uplift to 7,681.01. The more UK-based FTSE 250 gained 152.79 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 19,171.34.

On the Alternative Investment Market, shares in Beeks, the financial services connectivity group, surged by nearly a third after the Scottish firm announced that it has won two major contracts and expects its results for the next financial year to be ‘significantly ahead’ of previous forecasts. Investors piled in to the stock, driving the shares 31.9%, or 34.5p, higher to close at 142.5p.

In the US, market chatter was dominated by comments from Federal Reserve policymakers, who are doing their best to temper expectations of an imminent interest-rate cut. Meanwhile, a barrage of corporate earnings was keeping investors busy, with well-received results from DuPont, Palantir and Spotify.

The Dow Jones closed up 0.37%, the S&P 500 rose 0.23% while the Nasdaq gained just 0.07%, with very little separating the day’s highs and lows as investor risk appetite remained modest.

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