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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015