We sent out all the right signals by picking Cable & Wireless

The telecoms giant helped the 'IoS' outperform the FTSE All-Share in 2003, says Abigail Townsend

Maybe it was just good luck, or perhaps it all came down to professional expertise. But what is not in doubt is this: over the last 12 months, The Independent on Sunday's portfolio of stocks rose by 59.9 per cent, while the FTSE All-Share Index added just 16.6 per cent by comparison.

Maybe it was just good luck, or perhaps it all came down to professional expertise. But what is not in doubt is this: over the last 12 months, The Independent on Sunday's portfolio of stocks rose by 59.9 per cent, while the FTSE All-Share Index added just 16.6 per cent by comparison.

Of course, equity markets were helped and hindered in equal measure in 2003 by wider geopolitical events. In the run-up to war, no one felt like buying equities, and the outbreak of the Sars virus further battered the leisure sector. The plus side was the strong run equities enjoyed as President George Bush declared that the war was over and the global economic upturn continued.

Yet for the strongest performer in the IoS portfolio, it was all about the boardroom. Telecoms group Cable & Wireless acquired a new chairman and chief executive, Richard Lapthorne, who announced a retreat from its ill-fated foray into the US and settled a £1.5bn tax dispute. Investors lapped it up and the shares gained a hefty 198 per cent over the year.

Following in the recovery-play footsteps was Reuters. Early in the year, the news and information group, led by former lawyer Tom Glocer, declared an annual loss of £394m and shares plunged to a record low of 95.5p. For a stock worth more than £16 just three years ago, it redefined nadir. But Reuters' share price battled back, as investors tried to decide whether the worst was over. Third-quarter results just pipping forecasts further helped, and the stock finished 2003 up a respectable 32 per cent.

Drugs giant and FTSE 100 stalwart AstraZeneca, meanwhile, was the polar opposite of a recovery play. Buying pharmaceuticals is not without risk: the sector has suffered from generic competition and weak pipelines. Yet AstraZeneca's old-fashioned defensive qualities proved attractive. Chief executive Sir Tom McKillop and shareholders also breathed a collective sigh of relief after cholesterol drug Crestor finally received regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Not doing as well was Scottish Power. The electricity group rose just 3 per cent despite decent results and a turnaround at its US business. Evidently the company's plan to reduce the dividend from this year does not sit well with investors.

The one foreign stock in the portfolio was Frankfurt-listed banking group Commerzbank, which followed a generally upward trajectory. There had been concerns the bank might run into financial trouble but savvy investors knew the German authorities were unlikely to let it collapse. Cost-cutting helped further, as did the prospects of consolidation.

Which brings us to our final stock. Last year, Jonas Nissé, the then 16-month-old son of The Independent on Sunday's business editor, plumped for Christian Salvesen as his top tip for 2003. Brokers everywhere can relax, however - the logistics company was the only one of the six stocks that would have lost you money. The company had gone into free-fall in 2002 after profits slumped, and the slide continued in 2003, with shares hitting a low of 33p. The prospect of takeover talks nudged the stock back up but the talks collapsed, the dividend was cut and the shares drifted for the rest of year.

Young Jonas may have let the side down, but even with that entirely forgivable slip, the IoS portfolio would still have made you a profit - all but two of the stocks, Christian Salvesen and Scottish Power, outperformed the FTSE All-Share. Which, in layman's terms, means: if you had invested £100 net in the British IoS shares, you would have finished the year with £150.15, whereas a fund tracking the FTSE All-Share would have given you £116.56. The entire portfolio, leaving out the effect of currency changes, would have produced a net return of £159.91.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

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