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

Although stock market indices on the other side of the Atlantic finished higher this week, investors failed to find the enthusiasm to allow the FTSE100 to match the Dow Jones’ rise of 1.31% to 10951.24, and lost 1.36% to end 81.10 down at 5870.30. Although well off its 12-month low of 5280, the FTSE100 shows little sign of returning to the 12-month high of 6839. Nervousness on the financial markets continued, with many analysts expecting sudden market falls in the US next week as the Dow Jones approaches the 11000 level, and the threat of a deepening global economic slowdown continues to worry many. UK woes were worsened by concerns over how much damage has been done by foot-and-mouth, and sentiment was not improved by anti-capitalist demonstrations in London on Tuesday.
Not all market sectors suffered, however, and the TechMARK 100 index managed a rise of 1.44% to gain 29.16 points and finish at 2051.16.

Much of the other news centred around the demonstrations in London by anti-capitalists. While achieving their object of creating significant disruption in the Capital and gaining widespread news coverage, the majority of the demonstrators were contained in the small area of Oxford Circus by a massive police operation although the majority of shops had been boarded up in the expectation of a repeat of last year’s trail of destruction. A few retailers, however, had adopted other tactics. Waterstone’s Bookshop replaced its normal windows displays with books by Irvine Welsh, a well-known anti-establishment writer whose own drug-lifestyle and somewhat extreme views must surely have made it almost impossible for any true anarchist to even consider damaging such an effective advertisement for their cause.
Banners carried by the demonstrators showed a divergence of attitude within the groups present, and included the rather wistful "Abolish Capitalism And Replace It With Something Nice", and my favourite: "Wealth Warning – This Demonstration Contains Nuts".

Equally serious for many and on the same theme that some would describe as "the loony fringe" is a campaign organised by Greenpeace and supported by Friends of the Earth against Esso. Motorists are to be urged to boycott Esso petrol stations in the next few months, with tens of thousands of leaflets and a huge advertising campaign being supported by celebrities including Bianca Jagger and her daughter Jade, Rory Bremner, Annie Lennox, and Damien Hirst. The reasoning behind this protest is, apparently, that Esso’s parent company Exxon Mobil, unlike two of its competitors BP and Shell, has not invested in renewable energy and continues to refuse to acknowledge any link between the oil industry and global warming. Additionally, Exxon Mobil’s active support for US President George W Bush has further angered its critics, as Mr Bush’s hard line on environmental issues has included abandoning the Kyoto Treaty to limit emissions of carbon dioxide gas and plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Exxon Mobil made around £12 billion profit last year.

Sir Richard Branson is, some would say, living dangerously with his choice of business advisers. Branson’s chain of health clubs, Virgin Active, was launched in 1999 and has been until now owned solely by Branson with his investment of £25 million in the business. Now, however, expansion of the chain by the £27 million purchase of "Health and Racket" clubs and further expansion to be funded by venture capital with prospective partners including Gresham Trust, Duke Street Capital, 3i, and Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, should move the business significantly forward. However, the choice of Peter Norris, former chief executive of Barings Bank, to provide some financial advisory services has raised a few eyebrows. Remind me, someone, what was it that happened to Barings?

Finally for this week, I am getting more and more confused by "experts". It could be, of course, that my memory is failing, but I am quite certain I remember being told just a few years ago that climate change will lead to the UK being much drier. The "droughts" we were then suffering were, so the experts said, to be expected for many years to come and would worsen as a result of what we are all doing to our environment. Yet just a few months ago, I am sure we were being told that the floods we were suffering were a direct result of what we are all doing to our environment, and we can all expect many more of these floods for many years to come. In seeking an explanation for these apparent contradictions, I have been told that the truth is the UK’s weather will become more extreme, with exceptional weather conditions becoming the norm as a result of what we are all doing to our environment. This piece of information came on the same day as I watched a television program about the Lynmouth flood disaster of 16th August 1952, and just a couple of days after I listened to a presentation about how extreme weather had cause the collapse of the cliffs at Hastings and the partial destruction of the Norman castle there in 1287. I remain confused. Does anyone remember the winter of 1962/1963?

5th May 2001                        


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