Derek Pain: Will the festive season provide a boost for the stock market?

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The Independent Online

Could shares recover from their recent savage retreats and still manage to hit an all-time peak before the new year? Only last month many were banishing such thoughts, but there is now an outside chance that the perennial optimists, banking on the traditional festive run materialising, could after all emerge victorious.

I still believe the benchmark FTSE share index will fall short and the record high of 6,950 points hit in the madcap internet explosion at the turn of the century will prove unreachable. But it could be a close-run contest.

The stock market has certainly gained some confidence. Yet many distractions remain. International tension is evident; the eurozone continues to stagnate; and on the home front the rash of profit warnings shows no sign of abating. Yet the festive run has been known to ignore outside influences. And the all-time 1999 high was realised after a spectacular December performance.

Shares have certainly experienced volatility. In September the Footsie was at its highest for the year; yet in October – a month that often seems to wave a red flag for shares – it crashed to a 15-month low. New York has already achieved a new record. Why not our own stock market, which at one time was accused of hanging on to Wall Street's coat tails? The two share markets are often out of step these days, due to London's European connections. But maybe past links will be re-established.

At the start of this year share euphoria was widespread with some experts predicting the Footsie would hit 7,500. My guess was 7,200.

A few No Pain, No Gain portfolio constituents have edged forward but much of my recent interest has been concentrated on the battle for the Spirit Pub Company. Brewer Greene King this week rolled out its expected bid: the offer has been increased from about 109p for each Spirit share to 115p.

C&C could make a counter offer, but it is significant that the revised Greene King shot is at the level the Irish brewer indicated it would be prepared to bid. It promised more cash than Greene King, which is bidding largely in shares.

The portfolio paid 42p for its Spirit shares three years go and is, therefore, set to enjoy a handsome profit on its investment.

Lloyds Banking Group, however, has been a minor disappointment since recruited in the summer of last year. Recent figures were quite reasonable and, despite the difficulties engulfing the entire banking industry ,the shares are at least above my buying price, although below their best level since the full horrors of the HBOS acquisition and the Whitehall bail-out became apparent.

I intend to stick with Lloyds, by far the portfolio's biggest member. It is getting its house in order. But with regulators seemingly on the prowl, all bank shares have to contend with a high degree of uncertainty.

With two shares – SnackTime and TEG – suspended, the portfolio is down to 10 active shares, compared with the 15 or 16 I regard as an ideal collection. I will be adding recruits soon.

Indeed the signalled departure of Spirit, which has been given a value of £773m by the Greene King deal, would mean that for the first time since its early days the portfolio's membership is reduced to single figures. So I will have to get a move on. I do have a number of candidates lined up.

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