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a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus
30th December 2001
As the year draws to a close, Stock Markets show every sign of ending on an optimistic note. News that OPEC was cutting oil production in an attempt to raise the price of crude and had persuaded five non-OPEC countries to do the same, boosted oil company prices, and a general optimism about next yearís economic outlook boosted sentiment.
The FTSE100 finished the week up at 5242.4, a three-week high and having gained ground in the last four trading sessions. This represents a loss of 980.1 points on its opening value this year (6222.5), but 1023.4 points higher than its low during the year (4219). Traders seemed generally happy with what they described as a "mid-position" for the leading index.
Economists also seem to be taking an optimistic view, with retail sales showing an annual growth rate of 7% and little sign of flagging. Although manufacturing has suffered in the last year with a 3% decline in the last 12 months, unemployment remains low. Many believe that the UK is attracting investment from overseas, and is seen as the safest haven for money in a particularly unstable world economy. They also point to historical data showing the UK always "leading the way down" in previous world recessions, and believe it is highly significant that on this occasion the UKís economic growth has held up well in comparison with others.
"The UK looks to be the strongest placed of the worldís seven biggest economies," said Jeremy Hawkins of Bank of America.
Some Stock Market analysts are more cautious, however, with many pointing at the high level of personal debt in the UK which could create problems when the rest of the world economy picks up and interest rates rise. They are also nervous of the effect world events may have on Stock Market sentiment, and expect highly volatile prices in UK shares over the next few months.
Why am I surprised? The British weather is traditionally unpredictable, but being an Englishman, I have to talk about it.
In reality, the "unexpected" cold weather across the UK is not particularly extreme, despite being described in the Press as "the big freeze". Of course it has brought chaos to many areas, with most of the population being totally unprepared for it Ė as we always are. I still find it incredible that a few inches of snow and a bit of ice causes half the country to grind to a standstill and finds individuals and public utilities completely unable to cope. All the "experts" tell us we will experience extremely cold, snowy weather at least once every ten years, yet when it happens we stare at the peculiar white stuff as though we had never seen it before, incapable (apparently) of understanding whatís going on.
Ah well. Thatís what being English is all about, I suppose.
I see he has just announced that 2002 will be a year of "unprecedented change and reform", and that this upheaval will be "unsettling" for those who work in and use the education, health, transport and court systems. I think that means just about everyone?
Still, his best line was:
No. Iíve changed my mind. Itís not worth mentioning.
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