City & Business: We're learning to be confident again

We know the economy has bottomed out and is on course to grow a modest but not unhealthy 1-2 per cent this year. We know where we stand in relation to Europe: the Government says we're not going in for the forseeable future. Referring to the five tests he set for joining the single currency in November 1997, the Chancellor declared on Thursday: "It is clear that at this stage convergence and the tests aren't being met."

What we don't know is the most important thing: how our companies and corporate sector overall are performing in global markets. Measures of national competitiveness remain crude and variable. Stockbrokers compare the performance of UK companies against that of rivals, but only for stock-picking purposes. There is nothing broader - virtually no journalism, say, comparing BP against Exxon or BT against MCI WorldCom.

So we fall back on feelings. It feels as if the corporate community is enjoying a renaissance. Looking back at the quarter century between 1980 and 2005, it feels as if historians will say Britain was blessed with two world-class heads of state and make the link between strong governance and the end to the nation's industrial decline.

Month to month, however, we remain at sea. One day we feel great. The next we plunge into gloom believing nothing has changed from the awful 1970s. Currently, we seem on an upswing - gaining confidence in our performance in global markets.

Item: Craig Barrett, the chief executive of Intel, the Silicon Valley microprocessor maker, said last week that the UK was well positioned to become the European hub for the exploding internet.

Item: BMW announced last week that it was investing pounds 3.3bn over five years in a do-or-die venture to turn Rover around. The Government and Birmingham committed themselves to kicking in pounds 152m. The UK car industry is not dead. Who knows? Maybe Rover's new R75 luxury sedan will prove a hit. Maybe the new 200 and 400 series models that the company will build at Longbridge will prove hits, too.

Item: Last week media company Pearson and merchant bank Lazard announced they were unwinding their 80-year-old relationship. Lazard will sell its stake in Pearson, owners of the FT and Penguin, to the Spanish telecommunications group Telefonica. The Paris and New York arms of the merchant bank will buy out Pearson's 50 per cent stake in Lazard Brothers here.

The Americans would call it a win-win situation. In Telefonica Pearson gains a strategic investor well placed to help it compete in the multimedia world. Forget the rumours about a merger between BSkyB and Canal Plus. Consider the potential for joint venture broadcasting by Pearson and Telefonica via cable and internet.

Freed of conflicting loyalties, the UK arm of Lazard will be better placed to assert its rights. Lazard Brothers chief David Verey could even emerge as the boss of the newly unified bank.

The bank could even emerge as a British institution in spirit - helping Swiss-owned Warburg Dillon Read counterbalance US fire power in the City.

Item: The BBC last week appointed Greg Dyke its new director-general. UK culture is potentially a spectacular export product. The Beeb is the logical candidate to spearhead this business. Under Dyke it may finally carve out a profitable commercial niche by competing against Disney, Turner, and Murdoch abroad, while remaining a public service broadcaster at home. Dyke could even announce a corporate strategy to maximise content and minimise the licence fee by generating profits abroad.

Item: Last week Lloyds TSB agreed to buy life insurance and pension fund provider Scottish Widows for pounds 7bn. It thus secured its place as a resilient financial institution capable of withstanding any challenge from foreign banks eyeing the UK market. We now have two world-class banks - Lloyds and HSBC - capable of standing up to Citigroup, Bank of America, Deutsche, and Swiss Bank Corp.

Speaking to reporters after Lloyds announced its deal with Scottish Widows, chief executive Peter Ellwood offered us all a timely reminder of the name of the game in global markets: set the bar higher day by day, year by year. Aim for continuous improvement in quality and productivity.

It remains a mystery where the globalisation of markets is taking us. Its admirers say to a brave new Nirvana. Critics say to hell in a handbasket. We simply don't know. In our ignorance, however, it seems fitting to take heart from last week's news. Developments at Rover, Pearson, Lazard, the BBC, and Lloyds position us to prosper. The more we prosper, the better placed we will be to shape events rushing at us at warp speed.

Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone