Sterling at new high but strength hits shares

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STERLING reached another high for the year against the dollar yesterday, but its strength hit share prices in London. Gilts suffered too, with weakness in international bond markets outweighing the publication of favourable figures on government borrowing in September.

The pound rose nearly half a cent to dollars 1.614, its highest level against the US currency since the aftermath of sterling's departure from the European exchange rate mechanism in September 1992. The sterling index moved up to 80.0 from 79.8.

Analysts blamed concern about exports and the effect of a weaker dollar on companies with a significant share of their earnings in the US for tumbling share prices. The FT-SE 100 index closed 34.9 points lower at 3,085.3. FT-SE futures also fell sharply.

Gilts fell in sympathy with German bunds and, later, US treasuries, despite the announcements of a better-than-expected public sector borrowing requirement and a smaller than feared pounds 2.5bn gilts auction on 26 October. The benchmark 10-year stock fell half a point to yield 8.53 per cent.

The PSBR was pounds 4.08bn in September, bringing the Government's deficit for the year so far to pounds 19.5bn. A Treasury spokesman said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the year as a whole.

City analysts estimated the full- year total would be below the Treasury's forecast of pounds 36bn. Kevin Darlington, UK economist at Hoare Govett, said the figures indicated genuinely better control over public spending.