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The Independent Online
Congratulations to UBS, which carried off the prizes for best sales service and best market-making in the 1997 Extel survey of the smaller companies sector yesterday. UBS may have its problems at the moment, but it still managed to wrest the sales service prize from last year's winners Cazenove, and market-making from Merrill Lynch. Caz still got two prizes, for best dealing ability and corporate activity. Dresdner Kleinwort Benson scored for best research.

The fund managers polled by Extel voted Charterhouse Tilney the most improved brokers in terms of sales service and dealing ability, while Williams de Broe came first for most improved research.

For the first time this year smaller companies themselves had the chance to vote for best brokers' analysts, which went to Philip Meredith and his team at DKB. The companies also voted David Warnock and Aberforth Partners the best fund managers.

Jonathan Fry, the self-assured managing director of Premier Asset Management, had to fly out to Luxembourg this week to reorganise some unit trusts he's just bought from Brewin Dolphin Bell Lawrie, the private client stockbrokers.

The otherwise successful trip was marred by a seemingly endless delay to the flight back from Luxembourg Airport, due to thick fog. Mr Fry was informed, with a certain note of pride by a local, that "the foggiest place in Europe is Luxembourg, and the foggiest place in Luxembourg is the airport".

The Luxemburger explained that the airport had first been built by the Germans during the Second World War. The story goes that when the Germans asked the local authorities where was the best place to build an aerodrome, the locals suggested the foggiest, murkiest part of the Duchy, in the hope that the German planes would subsequently plough into the nearest ditch. How paradoxical that Mr Fry should fall foul of their plotting 50 years later.

Halifax, the recently converted high street leviathan, is attempting to put a bit of fizz into its performance by poaching a marketing director from Pepsi Cola. Philip Hanson will join the former building society next February as general manager, marketing. Mr Hanson is currently managing director, Europe, for Tricon Restaurants International, which until October was part of the Pepsico Group.

The chaps at Cater Allen took a day off banking on Tuesday to deliver a racehorse to an art gallery in Mayfair. Relax, the horse wasn't sawn in half a la Damien Hirst. James Barclay, chairman of the private bank and financial services house, was on hand to supervise the arrival of a life-size bronze racehorse at the Tryon and Swann Gallery. It's the work of Philip Blacker, a former steeplechase jockey and a leading equestrian sculptor.

Mr Blacker rode in nine Grand Nationals so he knows a bit about horse flesh. His sculpture of Red Rum was unveiled at Aintree in 1988 and his statue of Desert Orchid greets arrivals at Kempton Park.

His recent work embraces other members of the animal kingdom, including a giraffe, a pig and a lion with its foot on a tortoise (symbolic, I gather, but I'm not sure of what).

The Economist's collection of forecasts, The World in 1998 has just thumped on to my desk simultaneously with a book by an American business consultant which claims that the vast majority of forecasts are bunk.

William A Sherden's highly entertaining book, The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions, takes a baseball bat to, among other people, economists, market gurus, fund managers and weather forecasters.

"Each year the prediction industry showers us with $200bn in (mostly erroneous) information," writes Mr Sherden. Yet these highly paid people routinely get it wrong, he says. Recent events the "experts" failed to predict include the 1987 stock market crash and its subsequent recovery to record highs; the entry of women into the workforce in massive numbers; the fall of communism in Eastern Europe; the Gulf War; and all recessions, including the crash of 1929.

None of this worries The Economist, which has puts its collective neck on the block with a whole slew of predictions for 1998, including: cheaper gas and electricity bills, with a 6 per cent cut in leccy bills from April; a puritanical Europe-wide ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship; Daimler Benz and Siemens leading a stampede to adopt the euro into their accounts; and the world's population growing by 81 million to 5.93 billion.