Pearson stops Libya payout as oil surges

 
Steve Dinneen
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PENGUIN publisher Pearson yesterday took the unprecedented step of freezing dividend payments to Libya as pressure on the crumbling regime reached fever pitch.

The firm cut all payments for the Libyan Investment Authority’s (LIA) 3.27 per cent holding “until further notice,” pointing to UN security sanctions on the country.

The shock move came as oil prices continued to push higher, with Brent crude futures for April delivery hitting $114.5 yesterday, a new two-and-a-half year high. Oil production from fields operated by the Arabian Gulf Oil Co (Agoco), a firm based in east Libya, is down to about a third of normal levels as a result of the revolt against leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Fears over oil sent petrol prices surging past the 130p a litre mark yesterday – only 2p away from £6 a gallon. The cost of filling up a typical 50-litre tank now costs £8.65 more than a year ago.

Spot gold also hit three-month highs of $1,423.65 an ounce, as investors sought a safe-haven from the escalating troubles in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia shares fell to their lowest level since November 2008, amid concerns that the unrest could spread to the region.

Libyan rebels celebrated yesterday after fending off attacks from Gaddafi loyalists. Pro-democracy protesters managed to keep control of Zawiya, the closest city to capital Tripoli, and third city Zintan.

The battles came as more senior military figures defected to the rebels and Gaddafi’s grip on power slipped further. The opposition now count tanks, anti-aircraft guns and machine guns among their growing arsenal.

UK Prime Minister Cameron again called on Gaddafi to step down yesterday.