Wednesday morning business bulletin

Record oil prices help FTSE to positive start; Housebuilder Redrow blames market conditions for uncertain full-year profits; Fashion chain Next faces volatile trading conditions despite sales improvement.

Record oil prices above US$98 a barrel helped the FTSE 100 Index make a positive start today.

The new overnight peak of US$98.03 in Asian trading on renewed winter supply fears meant heavyweights Royal Dutch Shell and BP made early gains.

The wider index was 38.4 points ahead at 6513.3 after the first hour of trading as mining stocks also lent support to the benchmark index.

Shell was 26p ahead at 2035p and BP 3p up at 636.5p as oil moved closer to US$100 a barrel, with all eyes on US inventories data expected later today. BG Group also gained 12.5p to 909.

Redrow said the market conditions had cast uncertainty over its full-year profits performance.

The firm made pre-tax profits of £120.5m in the year to June 30 but added: "Until we can determine the extent to which the housing market will be affected by the prevailing conditions it is difficult to assess the likely outturn for the year to June 2008."

The housebuilder however maintained some hopes for the spring selling season amid growing expectations that the recent cycle of interest rate rises has peaked.

Fashion chain Next showed signs of a recent sales improvement today, although the group said it still faced ``extremely volatile" trading conditions.

Like-for-like sales across stores unaffected by new openings slipped by 2.9% in the 14 weeks to November 3, reflecting an improvement from the 4.8% decline seen in the first six weeks of the second half of its financial year.

Sales from the Next Directory - a key profits driver for the business - also returned to like-for-like growth, up 1.2% compared to a 2.9% decline in the first six weeks.

The pound at 9am was US$2.0936 compared to US$2.0857 at the previous close while the euro at 9am was £0.6986  compared to £0.6979 at the previous close.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer