Of metals and money
Review of the year
Sunday 29 December 1996
Oil has risen from $16 to $23 a barrel. This is, in part, due to the sanctions imposed on Iraq, but that's not the whole story. Growing demand has also helped squeeze the price higher.
Precious metals, by contrast, have had a dull year, with gold, despite a surge in January to $415 a troy ounce, obstinately stuck for most of the year between $400 and $370. It closed at $369 on Friday.
Platinum, with a price tending to greater volatility, has had no better a year. Other metals have also had a dismal year, with copper suffering in the fall-out from the Sumitomo Metals scandal.
On foreign exchanges, sterling started the year near its lows against the mark, at Dm2.22 to the pound. But after an awesome performance, it closed the year at a four-year high against the mark, of Dm2.631, and a three-year high against the Swiss franc.
Moves such as this have helped promulgate the view that sterling is becoming a "safe haven" among European currencies. While this may be scoffed at, given the pound's dismal performance over the last 30 years, and all the sterling crises to have engulfed it, there are some good reasons for the improvement in its fortunes. The UK economy is in better shape than its European colleagues. Politically, there is also an attraction because of the possibility it may be a late starter in monetary union. The keenness of Chancellor Kohl to achieve monetary union in the given timeframe has been one reason for the mark's weakness - although all transient factors, the recent base rate rise, the prospect of more to come, and the strength of oil have granted the pound further support.
For the yen, however, it has been an annus horribilis. It now stands at a four-year low against the dollar, after a battering from investors, who have been disposing of yen-denominated assets as fast as they can.
Feat of engineering: Incredible photographs show construction beneath New York's Second Avenue
Charles Saatchi accepts police caution for assault after trying to dismiss Nigella Lawson row as 'playful tiff'
Brazil kicks off: World Cup excess draws hundreds of thousands to street protests
Google, BT and Yahoo! agree plan to tackle child porn
Exposed: Edward Erin, the doctor whose faked asthma drug test results proved fatal
- 1 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 2 Special Report: US troops are stationed in Japan to protect the nation. But to sex workers in Okinawa, they bring fear, not security
- 3 Should we intervene? Our response to the Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson assault is shocking too
- 4 Exclusive: Cristiano Ronaldo advised to stay at Real Madrid for further 18 months before making possible switch to Manchester United
- 5 Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria
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