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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 14:01 GMT
Is oil the new bubble?
The cost of oil has more than tripled in the last three years

Despite some falls in the oil price in recent days, oil companies are still reaping the windfall profits which fortune has blown their way in recent times.

The rise in oil prices in recent months may have caused worries for the economy, for inflation and for motorists.

But there is one group of people who it is definitely pleasing and that's oil investors.

However, it's a cautionary tale.

Flotation frenzy

For instance on the Alternative Stock Market (AIM) there has recently been a spate of oil companies floating.

These include the 15m flotation of Star Energy, the 16.8m flotation of Meridian Petroleum and the 490m flotation of Nelson Resources.

Other flotations include Victoria Oil and Gas, Merlin Petroleum, Caspian Energy, Falkland Oil and Gas, and Circle Oil.

They are being encouraged not just by the rise in oil prices but the rise in oil shares on the main market.

Crazy Cairn

Cairn Energy has gone crazy - up 278% in the past year.

Cairn Energy has gone up 278% in the past year

But it's not the best performers which are most important.

There's a special reason Cairn in particular has done well - after buying an oil field which turned out to be much better than expected.

Even amongst the mid-rank performers there is amazing share price growth in the past 12 months.

Premier is up over 70% and Tullow Oil is up 65%

While at the bottom of the performance chart you still have for example BP up 29% and Abbot up 15%.

In fact the only share to lose money in this sector is John Wood Group.

So even if you picked very badly - you are very likely to have made a lot of money in this area.

A gamble

Despite all this good news, there are concerns.

Betting on these natural resource companies is perhaps more of a bet than in a number of other sectors.

Unlike many other companies, oil explorers don't have much influence. They can't create a market.

It's not like Delia Smith who can create a market for Cranberries by making recipes for them or Apple creating a new market for an ipod.

Oil companies just take what demand there is.

Nor can they brand their product - oil is oil - you're not going to get a battle between the M&S and Tesco of the oil world over whose oil is best.

So such companies are just at the whim of two things. Firstly, what happens to oil prices. Secondly, whether they are lucky enough to strike oil or not.

And there is another problem. Searching for oil is a big gamble. Find it and you can be quids in and fail to find it and you strike out.

So lest this become another dot com bubble - this is a word of caution to those who see these share prices rise and think there is no way you can lose money.

Other stories in today's programme

You're abroad on holiday and you go to buy something and wallop your card's declined - even though you know there's no reason it should be. Virginia looked at what you should do.

A guide entitled 'Daddy's Home: A Life Planner for Fathers' has been published to urge fathers to make the most of flexible working practices to allow them to spend more time with their family.

Lord Hanson, one of the most successful and influential businessmen of the past 50 years, dies aged 82.

We're growing increasingly dissatisfied with our gas and electricity suppliers. The main gripes are charges going up and problems with billing and payments, according to a study by marketing firm JD Power and Associates.


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