Australian oil and gas group Santos Ltd said yesterday it had appointed John Ellice-Flint as chief executive and managing director, a long-awaited decision which is to take effect from December 19.

News of the appointment of Australian-born Ellice-Flint, who previously has held senior management roles with U.S.-based oil company Unocal Corp, had little impact on Santos shares which closed a cent higher at A$6.02.

Santos has been without a permanent managing director since the retirement of Ross Adler in September. The post of acting managing director has been held by executive general manager John McArdle, who is due to retire in July 2001 Santos chairman John Uhrig said Ellice-Flint will bring oil and gas operating experience gained through working in the major petroleum basins of the world.

"He not only has an excellent track record of finding oil and gas, he also has very strong performance orientation and a clear focus and commitment to the building of shareholder value," Uhrig said in a statement.

One analyst, who did not want to be named, said the new Santos chief was not well-known in the local market, but appeared to have the right credentials. But he said the most significant issue still facing Santos was the outcome of a review by the South Australian government on whether to drop a 15 percent shareholding cap which was imposed in 1979 to ward off a potential takeover bid by Allan Bond.

"I'd be very surprised if (the appointment) is going to have a huge impact on the share price, most people will want to see his performance," the analyst told Reuters. "The most important piece of news is still to be released, the shareholding cap," he said.

A review on whether to scrap the cap was completed by a consultant and handed to the state government last month, but a decision is unlikely to be known for some months. Santos is regarded as a takeover target if the cap is lifted.

The company appears set for another record year in calendar 2000, fuelled by high oil prices, after posting a record profit A$207 million profit for the first half, up 148 per cent on the same time last year.