Oil firm Xcite's shares soar 800% on Shetland field news

ABERDEEN oil firm Xcite Energy has been touted as the "new Dana Petroleum" as its shares rocketed to fresh highs ahead of an update expected this week on its exploration work in the North Sea.

The firm, based in a city business park, has seen a dramatic rise in the value of its shares amid positive news on its Bentley oilfield around 100 miles (160km) east of the Shetland Isles.

In February its shares were trading at just 35p on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim) but by market close on Friday they had risen by more 800 per cent to reach a record level of 332p, valuing the business at 518 million.

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Shareholders - including Standard Life Investments which has 4.5 per cent of the shares - are sitting on stellar gains and many of the directors and senior management have been made paper millionaires in a matter of months.

Industry veterans Steven Kew, Richard Smith and Rupert Cole, who are executive directors of the company, each own more than six million shares, worth almost 21m.

The company's share price gains have also seen other managers at the firm share in a paper profit of more than 4.3m after 3.6 million share options were awarded to bosses in recognition of progress on the Bentley oil field.

When the options were granted just five weeks ago the share price was around 200p.

Xcite shares saw further strong gains last week after the company revealed a defensive "shareholder rights plan" to help repel a hostile takeover bid if necessary.

The plan allows existing shareholders to buy new Xcite shares equal to the amount they already own at a substantial discount if another party tries to acquire 20 per cent or more of the company in a bid.

Although it is not thought any takeover approaches are imminent, a further positive Bentley update could see the firm attract interest from a larger oil company. A report from house broker Arbuthnot recently said positive figures from Xcite's current well "would transform the company into the third largest independent exploration and production company" based on its North Sea reserves, behind Premier Oil and Dana.

The report also pointed out that unlike Dana, which has seen been acquired by Korean buyers, Xcite would have a "kingmaker" asset in Bentley rather than a fragmented portfolio.