BP slid 2% on Thursday as investor fears over the cost of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill resurfaced in the wake of legal action by the US government.
The energy giant, which faces penalties as high as 21 billion US dollars (£13.4 billion) if found fully liable for damages in the lawsuit, fell 7.9p to 68.7p as the stock reversed strong gains earlier this week.
BP’s decline failed to prevent the FTSE 100 Index from edging into positive territory, up 7.9 points to 5890 during thin pre-Christmas trading.
Solid retail sales figures for November from the Office for National Statistics offered some encouragement, but investors were focused on the performance of BP after the news of US legal action on Wednesday.
With BP already committed to a separate compensation fund of 20 billion US dollars (£17 billion), the City is concerned about the impact of higher costs on the likely restart of dividend payments at the start of next year.
Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital, said: “Just when it looked like BP had turned a corner and was beginning to move on from the Gulf oil spill, it is dealt another blow to its recovery efforts. Although the oil giant will have factored in any claims for gross negligence, it may have to speed up any asset sales if it is to reinstate its dividend in the New Year.”
The blue-chip risers board was topped by outsourcing firm Serco after it reassured investors that it remained on track to meet profits forecasts. With the company also confident in its medium to long-term prospects, shares rose 17.5p to 591p.
In a quiet session for corporate news, Sports Direct International jumped almost 6% in the FTSE 250 Index after it posted a sharp rise in half-year profits to just over £100 million and said it had cut debt by 25%. The performance, which was driven by a 10% rise in revenues from its retail estate, was slightly better than City expectations and triggered a share price improvement of 9.1p to 166.4p.
Elsewhere in the retail sector, shares in Laura Ashley jumped 10% as it said it was on track to beat forecasts after efforts to reshape its store portfolio offset slower sales growth in recent weeks. The stock was up 1.75p to 18.75p.
Other risers included Taylor Wimpey, which lifted 0.9p to 166.4p following Wednesday’s announcement that the refinancing of its debt facilities had been completed ahead of schedule.