pounds 50m lost in bonds' bear market

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The Independent Online

The City's top 10 gilt-edged mar ket-makers collectively lost a total of more than pounds 50m during the bear market for bonds in 1994, it emerged yesterday.

Several of the City's biggest names, including BZW, Goldman Sachs and SBC Warburg, were among the biggest losers. They lost almost pounds 60m.

The only big gainers were Lehman Brothers (pounds 16.6m) and Salomon Brothers (pounds 5.6m).

The market-makers' heavy losses, caused by the US decision to raise interest rates in February last year, followed substantial profits for most in 1993.

The extent of the losses comes as Angela Knight, the Treasury Minister, told a conference of gilt market specialists that government reforms would now make gilts even more attractive for domestic and overseas investors.

Gilt-edged market-makers' problems were cruelly exposed by the Federal Reserve's sudden decision last year because many held long positions on bonds. Hopes of a recovery were dashed after bond and gilt prices refused to rally throughout 1994.

Among the losers in the year to the end of December was BZW, which turned a pounds 28.1m profit the previous year into a pounds 19.2m loss. BZW's woes were made worse by its exposure to sterling gilts from Confederation Life, the Canadian insurer that collapsed in August.

Goldman Sachs managed to turn a loss of pounds 6.1m in the year to December 1993 into a loss of pounds 34.6m the following year. The company yesterday confirmed the figures but declined to comment about them.

SBC Warburg also revealed a loss of pounds 6.3m in the year to December 1994, compared with a smaller loss of pounds 3.4m in the previous 12 months. Kieran Lynch, head of gilt trading, said the company's year-end period meant that losses in 1994 appeared in both year's accounts. The picture would have been different for the calendar year of 1993, he added.

A number of market-makers who declined to be named, claimed that it was difficult to compare company accounts because each one was prepared in a slightly different way.

Some included elements in them other than gilt dealing. Philip Howard, managing director of Lehman Brothers, which saw a pounds 16.6m profit in the year to November 1994, said: "Our market share was going up and we were getting a better feel of the business than before. We also made a particular effort to understand the international business outside the UK. Finally, the traders had a very good call on the market and were able to keep their position looking the right way for much of the year."

At the conference yesterday, organised by NatWest Gilts, Mrs Knight said: "We have set about a major overhaul of the way that government debt is managed. It will make things more attractive for investors without tying up the authorities in red tape."