Market Report: Mayfair man on losing streak as Footsie surges


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The Independent Online

The chatty crowd had a result this week. "She's gone", said one. "She will not be missed." Margaret Cole's reign as the Financial Services Authority's (FSA) enforcer wasn't exactly one of terror, but at times she did make her starting assumption that the City was crooked and take inquiries from there.

Misdeeds, some imagined rather than real if you believe a certain sort of broker, were punished like never before.

"She seemed to think that if you bought shares because of a takeover rumour, you were doing something wrong. That's what I do for a living," said a man in Mayfair who admits he's on a losing streak.

Lately the rumours he's backing aren't coming good. This stock market lark might be harder than Cole imagines.

Still, she's now on "gardening leave" and seeking fresh opportunities.

The talky traders have thought for a while now that with the FSA in the process of being disbanded their activities are under less scrutiny from the watchdog than they might be.

They could be wrong of course, but that's what they think. Not that they are trading on inside information. But only because they haven't got any inside information. You heard anything treacle? Come on, you must have.

One man who seemed to be getting away with it was Sergey Aleynikov, the former Goldman Sachs programmer found guilty of stealing proprietary code from the bank's high-frequency trading platform. But a US federal appeals court reversed the conviction late on Thursday, a ruling that was eyed with more than passing interest here.

Human day traders don't like their computer rivals. They reckon the high-frequency boxes hoover up momentum share gains they regard as rightfully theirs.

Still, no one should have done too badly of late. Since the summer the FTSE 100 is up getting on for 900 points. That's a bull market however you slice it, and those that have ridden this train are again talking as if they've made money from being brilliant rather than from merely being on the right platform.

The thing is, the FTSE isn't even looking expensive so the rally should keep going. It trades on 10.6 times future earnings, compared to a 10-year average of 14 times. Many big companies are sitting on piles of cash they will surely have to spend at some point, which means 2012 could see more than a few takeover deals.

The FTSE was up again today, a bit, adding 19.58 points to 5904.96, and Greece was the word, again.

"When we have a bad day, it's because of the Greeks. When it's a good day, it's because of the Greeks," said one dealer.

Expectations that the negotiations over Greece's bailout deal might – perhaps, maybe – conclude by Monday helped sentiment, especially towards banks.

Investors hope that progress in Athens will ease exposure to the European debt crisis. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which has its annual results on Thursday, was jostling for the top spot of the FTSE 100 podium.

"Risk appetite returns for banking shares," declared Mike McCudden, head of derivatives at Interactive Investor.

RBS was up 0.8p at 27.6p. Fellow taxpayer-owned lender Lloyds Banking Group – which will follow in RBS's footsteps with 2011 numbers a week today – lifted 1.1p to 35.5p.

Not everyone buys the optimism.

"Everyone has their fingers in their ears on Greece," said Louise Cooper at BGC Partners. "The bailout still hasn't happened, and the risk of it all going horribly wrong has increased substantially."

She's a gloomster, that one.

Decent numbers from industry titan Anglo American helped the miners muscle along.

Following a bout of profit-taking on the metal diggers over the last three sessions, Vedanta was 57p weightier at 1312p, Randgold Resources rose 80p to 7060p, Xstrata picked up 19p to 1196p and Kazakhmys gained 5p to 1124p. Anglo itself was also more expensive, having shed nearly 8 per cent over the past five trading days, after reporting a record £7bn annual profit. The stock rose 30p to 2674p.

Stronger than expected retail sales offered some respite to battered shopping shares. Marks & Spencer gained 4.7p to 352.6p, and Kingfisher, owner of B&Q, lifted 2.2p to 280.2p.

Sainsbury's was again the subject of speculation more reheated than one of its ready meals: the idea that major shareholders the Qataris are in town to discuss a £9bn, 500p -a-share bid helped its shares rise 5.5p to 301.5p. Even those who don't believe it seem happy to chase this one from time to time.

Missing the fun was Tesco, down just 2.4p at 137.9p, as a knocking note from Nomura warned that the supermarket giant's introduction of trial initiatives "will take time to change customer perception and behaviour".

FTSE 100 Risers

Intercontinental Hotels 1410p, (up 28p, 2 per cent)

Has had a stellar week. Storming profits and a much better dividend increase than expected charmed investors, who also believe the hotel giant will have a strong Olympics.

IMI 960p (up 33.5p, 3.6 per cent)

Engineering giant is paying up to £43m for Brazilian valve maker Interativa to give it even more firepower in South America.

FTSE 100 Fallers

British American Tobacco 3115p (down 33p, 1 per cent)

Was hit by a downgrade from Société Générale. This seemed to outweigh Goldman Sachs’ positive stance, which reckons a fair price would be £46.

Experian 945.5p (down 6p, 0.63 per cent)

Faces an inquiry in the US. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to keep a closer eye on credit reporting companies and debt collectors.

FTSE 250 Risers

Home Retail Group 109.1p (up 6.3p, 6 per cent).

It led the FTSE 250 risers thanks to decent retails sales which suggest all is not lost on the high street. That should be good news for its battered Argos chain.

Sports Direct 286.8p, (up 10.8p, 3.9 per cent)

Is already seen as one of the winners from the recent retail fall out. The shares floated at 300p in 2007, making founder Mike Ashley a billionaire in the process.

FTSE 250 Fallers

Domino’s Pizza 479p (down 10.2p, 2 per cent)

Is enjoying an online sales surge. People staying home instead of visiting restaurants and pubs might be one factor. There was some profit taking yesterday.

Misys 309.6p, (down 4.4p, 1.4 per cent)

Is attracting takeover interest. Its proposed merger with Temenos could even be derailed – bidders have until 6 March to declare an interest.