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

New! See also our "Scoop!" page - exclusive news and investigations by the Simply Info News Team 

Stock Markets fell steadily this week with shares in London following New York downwards. The FTSE100 index lost 227.6 points to finish at 5723, recovering slightly from a two-month low of 5657.7 hit earlier on Friday.
Profit warnings from tech companies in particular were to blame for much of the misery, and in the U.S. the Nasdaq index suffered its biggest weekly loss this year. Pessimistic statements from Philips and Nortel combined with the announcement from U.S fibre-optics company JDS Uniphase indicating a cut in sales estimates and a profit warning from Nokia to damage investors’ confidence in the markets. Rumours abounded that Microsoft was set to announce a profit warning.

Nearly half the losses for the FTSE100 on Friday, however, were from Banks. A warning from Royal Bank that the risk of bad debt was rising and that low interest rates could squeeze profit margins led to its own shares dropping 5.4% to 1650 pence. Other Banks followed downwards, with Barclays dropping 1.5% to 2215 and Bank of Scotland losing 3.5%. Some analysts believe the warning from Royal Bank will have a significant knock-on effect across a much wider range of companies, with the already suffering tech shares taking the brunt of a further loss of confidence.

One of the worst fallers towards the end of the week was again Railtrack despite a recovery earlier in the week. It dropped to an all-time low of 298 pence in its last trading session on Friday before leaving the FTSE100. Although not popular with investors and brokers at present, some traders believe Railtrack to be substantially undervalued at present levels, and expect a substantial rise in the price within a few days.
Some investors with the confidence to remain in the markets turned to insurance and utilities, seeing Royal & Sun Alliance pick up 4.3% on Friday to 480.5 and United Utilities manage a 3% gain to finish at 642.5.

Confidence in European trade may not have been improved by comments from the Governor of the Bank of England Eddie George, and for the euro-enthusiasts the remarks made to economics student at Bristol University may have come as an unexpected kick in the teeth. In what many may see as an extraordinary attack on Europe , Eddie George said that the weak euro would not necessarily be strengthened should Britain decide on an early entry to the single currency, and the only hope for the euro would be divine intervention. "If you believe in the power of prayer, you will join me this evening in praying for the euro to recover," he was quoted as saying, ""I am not going to say the only thing we can do is pray, because a lot of people would criticise me for that. But it is the only thing we can do." He went on to say the weak euro would not necessarily be strengthened if Britain were to join the single currency. "Some people have argued that an indication that we would join early would help; I am not sure that that's my instinctive view," he said, "There could be circumstances in which we could join and it would damage the euro."

As the Queen’s birthday honours list is published naming nearly 1000 people, I note a few in the list who might, perhaps, not have received the award had the selections been made by their own shareholders. Notable among these is the Chief Executive of Vodafone Chris Gent who is to receive a knighthood. Mr Gent (or should that be "Sir Chris"?) is no doubt worthy of the honour, but Vodafone shareholders who have seen the value of their investment fall from a high of over £3.50 per share at the start of last year to today’s price of £1.64½ per share, may think otherwise. Although Vodafone shares are by no means unique in their price losses, this sort of award remains incomprehensible to many. Interestingly, Chris Gent is known to be a long-time friend of former Prime Minister John Major. It’s a strange world.

Excitement is mounting. It really is. You’ve missed it? Ah.
The leadership of the Conservative Party is about to be contested. See? I told you it was exciting.
The trouble is, as more than 40% of the British electorate demonstrated at the recent General Election, much of Britain is now fairly uninterested in politics or politicians.
I wonder whether there is anyone among the likely candidates for the next Tory leader who can really make any impact and stir up some interest. Michael Portillo seems to be heading towards being the only realistic choice, but has he the personality needed to give British politics the shake-up it really needs if he were to become Leader of the Opposition? Kenneth Clark is also a possibility, but as he said himself recently, could a Party that has campaigned to recently on an anti-euro platform really accept a europhile as a leader so soon? Ann Widdecombe may also be in the running. Now there’s an interesting lady. She should terrify the government – she certainly terrifies me. But can she ever live down some of her more outlandish comments in the past? In particular, will the public ever forget her rather extreme views on drugs – and just when Scotland Yard has announced an official relaxing of their attitude to cannabis possession?
Does any of these really have what’s needed to kick-start the public’s interest in what is going on in Parliament? Someone needs to. Governments rarely do it – it’s up to the Opposition to make an impact. And without the strong personalities of some of the politicians this country’s had in the past it’s just not going to happen. And does anyone really care?

16th June 2001                        

Links to previous news comments:

10-June-2001
03-June-2001
26-May-2001
19-May-2001
12-May-2001
05-May-2001
21-April-2001
14-April-2001
07-April-2001
31-March-2001
24-March-2001
18-March-2001
11-March-2001
04-March-2001
24-Feb-2001
18-Feb-2001
10-Feb-2001
03-Feb-2001
27-Jan-2001
20-Jan-2001
13-Jan-2001
06-Jan-2001
30-Dec-2000

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