Monday, 15 October 2012

One is the yet-to-be-determined cost of the disaster. The other is the future of Russian venture TNK-BP. Both have put an artificial ceiling on what used to be one of Britain’s favourite stocks. 
Down in the darker corners of the City, conspiracy theorists whisper in hushed tones about a carve-up between Total and Shell. Bankers have apparently crunched the numbers in readiness, should the moment present itself. 
Shell certainly discussed an audacious bid during the depths of the Gulf crisis, while France’s Total would surely jump at the chance to pick up some assets in the US if the opportunity arose.
BP’s uncertainty-ridden low share price merely adds to the hype. Takeover talk is fanciful stuff, but the rumours are unlikely to abate until at least one great unknown has been dispensed with. 
We may be a smidgen closer to such a happy state of affairs after this week. Tomorrow, AAR – BP’s 50:50 joint venture partner in TNK-BP – is expected to lodge a formal offer for BP’s half of the business, worth around $25billion (£16billion). 
A quick and easy deal would hand BP a whole lot of cash, easing fears over the financial hit from a punitive Gulf of Mexico settlement. If only life were that simple. 
A straight sale to AAR is just one of a confusing array of outcomes for the future of a partnership that has been as fractious as it has lucrative. 
Another option is that AAR, rather than buying out BP, makes its own exit by selling up to Rosneft. At that stage, BP could either retain its holding, safe in the knowledge that it had found a more friendly partner, or sell up to Rosneft for cash plus a stake in the enlarged company.
If that weren’t enough choice, the four oligarchs behind AAR are also known to be considering a partial stock market listing of their half of TNK-BP. That would involve a multi-billion dollar listing with the potential to rival some of the largest in FTSE history. 
The markets may be febrile, but there would be a good deal of appetite for a venture that has thrown out cash like a drunken banker in a gentlemen’s establishment. 
Bob Dudley is at this moment in Moscow, no doubt learning about which way President Putin expects things to turn out. If he really has the Kremlin on side, the quiet American has the opportunity to address the future of TNK-BP – and thus BP – from a position of strength.
If he plays his cards right, Dudley can retain exposure to resource-rich Russia while raising enough cash to give BP the freedom to go out and do big-ticket deals with national oil companies. 
BP was down 1.9p to 429.55p, as the oil world holds its breath for news from the Eastern Front. 
Like many in the City, the FTSE was still feeling a touch fragile after the weekend. Progress was held back by miners as global growth fears persist, with Kazakhmys the worst off, down 25.5p at 690p. After strong gains early in the day, the blue-chip index ended up just 12.29 at 5805.61.
Five time zones to the West, the Dow Jones was up 87.02 to 13415.87 in early trading. Anyway, what about YouGov? Me, guv? No, YouGov. The polling and market research group reported rising profits, rising revenues and a maiden dividend. And what did it get for its troubles? A 2.5p fall to 77.5p, that’s what. 
If the folks at YouGov were to do a poll of sentiment at transport operator FirstGroup, they might find unanimous support for the public flogging of Department for Transport wonks. Back in January, FirstGroup’s stock was rolling along at well above £3. 
Fast forward 10 long months and the firm has found itself unceremoniously shunted off the West Coast route. The latest insult comes with the news that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail, responsible for challenging FirstGroup’s contract to begin with, will run the line for at least another nine months. FirstGroup suffered again, puffing its way down 6.1p to 184.6p. 
BT dialled down 1.7p to 217p after a price target cut from Barclays, which thinks the telecoms firm’s shift into sports broadcasting is a riskier tactic than playing three up front at the Nou Camp. Better news for Kentz though. 
The oil services group was in favour with the analysts at both Oriel and UBS, which initiated coverage yesterday. 
The Swiss bank put a 500p target on Kentz, which it says is underpriced and ready for some acquisition action. Up it came, putting on 15.7p to close the day at 424.7p.
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