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Broker's profits set to dive

THE LEADING broker and market-maker Smith New Court is expected to announce this week a giddy slump in annual profits from pounds 95.2m to pounds 36m, after a week in which the London Stock Exchange revealed that its member firms lost pounds 127m last year, writes William Kay.

Last week, as forecast by the Independent on Sunday, Hambros Bank was forced to cut its dividend. Financial services companies were already under pressure in the wake of the near-failure of Barings Bank and the humiliating takeover of SG Warburg Group by its former enemy, Swiss Bank Corporation.

Although Smith New Court has tried to reduce its dependence on market- making - securities wholesaling - by expanding into corporate finance, its fortunes are still closely linked to the volume and volatility of the London market and others where it has outposts round the world.

Philip Gibbs, analyst at Barclays de Zoete Wedd, blamed SNC's downturn on a shift in the market climate. He said: "Sudden change in overall market conditions has meant companies like SNC have had to switch from expansion to cutting costs. 1994 went from a raging bull market to a very severe bear market."

Last week, the Stock Exchange said that "low trading volumes and difficult economic conditions had combined to cut profits for member firms in 1994 to their lowest level since 1990".