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News Comment
a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus

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The stock markets faltered at the end of the week, with the FTSE100 index closing lower by 67.2 points at 5896.8,, the first loss in five trading sessions and just 26.5 points up on the week. Optimism, particularly among some smaller investors, had been strong on Thursday after both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank lowered interest rates by a quarter of one percent. Although many investors had hoped for an 0.5% cut, the 0.25% was seen as a helpful move for business while not sending out signals that economists were panicking over the threat of a serious global economic slowdown. Friday, however, saw the return of caution, and oil companies in particular suffered with share prices of both BP and Shell slipping considerably on worries over future oil consumption and a weaker crude oil price. Banks also suffered on Friday, although analysts believe this to be mainly a result of profit-taking following Thursday’s gains. Telecoms were also unpopular, with Colt Telecom losing a further 5.9% and Marconi down 5.6%. Falls in the U.S. stock markets worsened UK market sentiment generally, and the U.S. falls continuing after London markets closed have been said by some analysts to indicate that the generally unsettled market conditions will continue on Monday.

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers published last week found a sudden rise in profitability of Internet companies. In the fourth quarter of last year, the survey found, the percentage of the top 150 European Internet companies making a profit had risen to 38% from 28% in the previous quarter. Analysts believe that the rapid rise is an indication of a stabilisation in the industry, with the value of new "dot-com" floatations having also dropped from £560 million in the third quarter to just £122 million. The survey points out that external funding for Internet companies is now almost non-existent, and that it appears those not now making a profit are facing the prospect of completely running out of cash on average within 18 months. Investors are advised to be selective in their choice of company, but some analysts believe there may be colossal profits to be made by the survivors.

As the UK approaches a General Election now set for June 7th, the usual inter-party slanging match is now well under way. Other events in the UK and in the rest of the world are taking second place in news reports, as journalists’ only interest seems to be in finding the most outrageous (and preferably untrue) comment that one politician has made about another. With such excitement at home, we in the UK seem to be missing the far more dramatic events that are unfolding in Italy’s General Election. Our political candidates, colourful as some of them may be, may seem pale in comparison to the Italian politicians. Silvio Berlusconi, the man tipped as most likely to form Italy’s next government with his "centre right" alliance, seems to be something of a controversial character. Having previously been tried and convicted of bribery and illegal party financing, although acquitted on appeal, Berlusconi is still facing two trials for bribery and false accounting. Rumours abound of other illegal activities including bribery of Italy’s judges, but Silvio Berlusconi accuses much of the country’s judicial system of having an extreme left-wing bias that is unfairly prejudiced against him and his ideals. He has been attacked consistently by the media in much of the rest of Europe and in the U.S. primarily because of his vast business empire and the likelihood that his success in the elections would create a serious risk of a conflict of interest. He already owns three of Italy’s television channels, and would effectively have control of the other three state-run channels. His other business interests are worth the equivalent of around $11 billion, making him debatably the richest man in Italy. The election results are expected on Monday (14th).
Some Press reports have referred to Silvio Berlusconi as "The Godfather". I wonder why.

It is with great sadness that I heard yesterday of the death of Douglas Adams, writer of, among other things, "The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy". The loss of a writer with such great comic genius deserves a mention at least, although few news reports seem to have noticed. Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952, educated in Essex and then at St John’s College, Cambridge. He married Jane Belson in 1991 and his daughter, Polly, was born in 1994. "The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy" was published in 1979 and sold 14 million copies worldwide as well as being turned into a BBC TV series. His other best-selling works include "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe", "Life, The Universe And Everything" and "So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish".
Goodbye, Mr Adams. And thank you.

12th May 2001                        


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