Winners and losers: Xstrata is extra-special in year of the miners

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The Independent Online

The past 12 months proved to be the year of the miners, with all three of the FTSE 100's top performers coming from the minerals and metals sector. Topping the list among the large cap stocks was the Anglo-Swiss mining company Xstrata, which delivered investors a total return, including dividends, of just over 110 per cent for the year. Although its share price was driven up principally by soaring metal prices, the market also responded positively to its $18.8bn (£9.6bn) acquisition of the Canadian copper, zinc and nickel miner Falconbridge, which it completed last month.

Lonmin, the world's third largest producer of platinum, which ascended to the FTSE100 during the summer, was the second-best performer of the large caps, delivering investors a total return of 90.8 per cent over the year. Like Xstrata, the group was buoyed by persistently strong performance in global metal markets, as well as an acquisition in the second half, when it announced plans to snap up the African platinum producer AfriOre for £441m.

Corus completes the trio of top-performing FTSE100 metal giants, with its shares up 83.5 per cent, mainly due to the recent takeover battle for the company.

At the bottom end of the FTSE100, it was the Anglo-US cruise ship company Carnival whose shares sank furthest over the year, losing almost 20 per cent. The company struggled at the hands of rising fuel costs earlier in the year, followed by a fall in prices on its Caribbean routes over the summer, due to fears of hurricanes in the region. The summers of 2004 and 2005 saw devastating tropical storms and hurricanes hit the region. In spite of predictions to the contrary, 2006 ended up being a much quieter year.

The oil companies BP and Cairn Energy were also among the biggest losers in the FTSE100, as oil prices finally came back from their highs of more than $75 a barrel.

The mid-cap FTSE250 index, which returned more than two and a half times more than its larger counterpart, contained some 10 stocks which doubled investors' money over the year. The best performer was Britain's largest coalmining company, UK Coal, which delivered investors a total return of 201.4 per cent, mainly on the back of the unexpected discovery that its property portfolio was worth almost three times more than it had thought.

Propping up the bottom end of the FTSE250 for the year was the online gambling company PartyGaming, whose shares ended 2006 down more than 75 per cent, following the US government's surprise decision to ban internet gaming in October. The US represented the lion's share of the group's business, which only 12 months ago was one of the darlings of the FTSE100.

Among the small cap stocks on the main London list, the taxi maker Manganese Bronze topped the performance charts, almost quadrupling shareholders' money over the year. The shares rocketed after the company unveiled a transformative partnership with a Chinese company in the autumn. The deal will see the company produce some 20,000 cabs a year in China, and will give it access to distribution in the potentially lucrative Chinese market.

As ever, it was the Alternative Investment Market - home of Britain's start-ups and fledgling companies - which produced the most dramatic gains and losses over 2006. The best-performing stock for the year was the cash shell Netcentric, whose shares rose an astronomical 884 per cent. The stock's fortunes turned in March, when the City entrepreneur Howard Crosby took a 29.9 per cent stake and a seat on the board of the company, announcing his intention to make an acquisition as soon as possible. The year ended with the company being reversed into by another of Mr Crosby's investment vehicles, The Oil Mining Company, which plans to buy and develop oil wells in the US.

The worst-performing stocks year were also on AIM, with no fewer than seven shedding more than 90 per cent of their value during 2006. Bottom of the heap was Smart Telecom, an Irish internet provider, whose shares bombed when it found itself cut off by the telecoms provider Eircom as it had failed to pay its bills. The company also lost its bid to buy one of Ireland's 3G licences. Only two years ago, the group had aimed to have some 64,000 customers on its books within a year. It now has only 17,000, and is more than €40m (£27m) in debt.

In the Indy 100 - The Independent's own index of companies which are mainly dependent on the UK economy for their turnover - the pub group JD Wetherspoon emerged as the strongest performer. Shares in the company rose almost 95 per cent over the 11 months since our index's conception, in spite of the implementation of the indoor smoking ban in Scotland earlier this year, and the proposed roll-out of similar bans in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2007. Wetherspoon chose to embrace the change in the law, converting more than 100 of its pubs into smoke-free environments, and claims that sales have been ahead of its expectations in the chosen venues.

The worst performer in the Indy 100 was the troubled software provider iSoft, whose shares plummeted two-thirds in value after a string of profit warnings, and the revelation that the Financial Services Authority was investigating the firm for potentially making misleading statements to the market.

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