Derek Pain: Santa could have a new high for the Footsie in his sack

No Pain, No Gain

The stock market, as measured by the Footsie share index, could enjoy a strong run in the remaining weeks of this year. Assuming shares again experience the traditional festive upsurge, there seems every chance that a new peak could be achieved.

Mind you, the Santa run is not as powerful as it used to be. In days gone by it was not unusual for the top brass at investment houses to embark on an end-of-the-year holiday, leaving deputies in charge. And, it seemed, the number twos were more inclined to buy rather than sell. I have no reason to believe that the holiday habit has disappeared, but in this all-seeing electronic age exuberance is more easily curbed.

Still, with New York achieving a new high and even with a more restrained Christmas run, a Footsie record is in sight. After all, the US share index surprised many more cautious souls by achieving a record level. The US economy, although improving, is still not in great shape. But the doubters missed the point – stock markets love anticipating developments.

And there are similarities with this country. There is no doubt our financial circumstances are getting better although we still have far to go to get back to happier times. But London investors will not wait for Britain to hit the jackpot; new highs could be achieved at the very prospect of the nation enjoying a greater degree of prosperity.

I recall the Footsie powering to its peak. It was in 1999. Helped by a Santa run, the benchmark closed at 6,930 points, after hitting 6,950 earlier in the day. It was a remarkable year, with the "dotty.com" madness very much the major influence. Several times since then the blue-chip index, featuring the biggest quoted companies, has come near to scaling its old peak. The last time was in May when it topped 6,800.

At the turn of the century some wild and wonderful internet-related stories galvanised the stock market, obliterating commonsense. But once the high-tech boom evaporated, the City was a joyless place and when Iraq was invaded in 2003 the index was 3,287.

There is some evidence of internet fever in the present performance, particularly in New York. It must be hoped that the mad scramble that afflicted the last record-breaking run is a more subdued influence this time round.

This year's more buoyant stock market has attracted an upsurge in new issues. More than 60 companies, including Royal Mail, have had share floats. And others are on their way, including discount retailer Poundland and TSB.

It is probably true to say 2013 is the most cheerful year for the City this century. A rush of takeovers as ambitious executives attempt to take advantage of the more confident atmosphere is the only missing factor.

Some no pain, no gain portfolio constituents are sharing in the fun. Booker, the cash-and-carry chain, has hit new highs. Sohas leisure group Whitbread, which surged at one time to 3,530p – up nearly 150p – after investment house JP Morgan Cazenove lifted its rating to overweight.

But it's not all cheer. I am growing increasingly concerned about insurance group Brightside. Following abortive takeover talks and a far from encouraging trading statement, the shares are almost back to my 18.5p buying price. At the height of the bid negotiations they topped 27p, which more or less coincided with the signalled offer price. But the Brightside trading downturn prompted the bidder, Markerstudy, to instead talk in terms of 20p to 22p.

Markerstudy, a Gibraltar-based insurer, has marginally lifted its stake to 12 per cent since talks terminated. Under City takeover rules it cannot return to the Brightside arena until February.

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