Last year's winner, Severn Trent Water, has risen to the top of its group, with a share price of 1 ecu at the end of the third quarter of the round, but the other three group leaders - BPP Courses, "Borg" of Birmingham and "It's Good to Talk" of Ipswich - all have shares trading at 1.11 ecus. These are below the starting price of 1.19 ecus, and progress is so difficult that few others are trading above 1 ecu.
However, these figures represent an advance on the second round, when the best price was BPP's 1.09 ecus and the stock value of all but four of the 20 teams taking part was below par.
The prize for these contestants in the Independent NatWest Management Challenge is a place in next month's national final. There, at a London hotel, they will compete for pounds 10,000 and the chance to take on the best in Europe.
The challenge is based on a computer simulation devised by Edit 515 of Edinburgh. As with a genuine company, performance is measured by share price, which can be moved up or down according to decisions made by the teams in response to the conditions created by the computer. In this round progress has been checked largely by the tough world economic situation.
The company each team is trying to run is a medium-sized manufacturer producing consumer goods for sale in Europe and the United States. In order to do this, team members must demonstrate a range of skills - including finance, production, marketing and personnel management. Some teams give individual members responsibility for each of these functions, while others take group decisions. The idea is that teams can learn and refine their business skills.