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EMU delays could be costly

With just 500 days to go until the creation of a European single currency, UK companies run a risk of missing the January 1999 deadline with "potentially devastating consequences", according to Cap Gemini, the European computer services and consultancy group.

Sue Roberts, a senior manager with Cap Gemini, said: "There is now a groundswell of opinion that EMU will proceed on time. Although it is likely that the UK will not be in the first phase, UK companies are taking a serious business risk in delaying their preparations."

The report says many companies have underestimated the time needed to prepare for European monetary union (EMU). If they fail to act now they could run the risk of incurring much higher costs and lower revenues. Delays may even force companies out of business, as many would be forced to reduce their prices to compete with European rivals but would miss out on low-priced materials available within the European trading zone.

The price of converting IT systems will rise as computer experts concentrate on revamping computer systems to cope with the millennium time bomb.

However, a separate report by the Centre of Policy Studies says EMU could offer speculators "staggering opportunities for profit". Dr Walter Eltis,former adviser to Michael Heseltine at the Board of Trade, says dealers such as George Soros have the opportunity to make a killing by attacking weaker currencies and pouring money into stronger currencies such as the German mark.

The speculators could put such a strain on the new currency system that some countries would be forced to pull out and EMU could collapse, leading to a rise in the value of the mark and huge gains to dealers.