US in old reaction to New Labour

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The Independent Online
UK STOCKS could slide next week as falling US markets compound concern that British voters could bring in the first Labour government in 18 years on 1 May.

A handful of earnings from retailer Sears and oil companies Shell Transport & Trading and British Petroleum are not expected to hoist the market.

"The market has proved very resilient up to now, but I think we'll drift sideways to lower until we get the election out of the way," said Paul Whyman, fund manager at Matheson Investment Management. "I expect the earnings from BP and Shell to be good, but they won't be enough to set the market off."

Investors' reluctance to wager funds in the last four trading days before the election could lead to volatile price swings.

Shell and BP, the country's largest integrated oil companies will report on Thursday and Friday respectively, and investors are hoping for the same calibre of profit growth as their US-based rivals.

Texaco and Shell Oil Co both posted double-digit gains in first quarter earnings, benefiting from higher oil and gas prices. Shell's earnings rose 30 per cent and Texaco's 27 per cent.

Sears will report Tuesday and Chiroscience Group will start the week off with full-year earnings.

Chiroscience's report comes on the heels of news from AutoImmune of the US that one of its principal drugs in the final stages of clinical tests failed to perform better than a placebo.

AutoImmune's failure triggered a collapse in biotechnology shares on both sides of the Atlantic and undermined some investor's confidence in these highly speculative companies.

Bloomberg's UK biotechnology index of Britain's 27 biggest drug development companies fell 1.55 per cent last week.

A fall on the US stock market could further eclipse any robust UK corporate earnings. There is speculation that a series of US economic reports out next week, including consumer confidence, gross domestic product and employment figures, will reveal robust growth in the US economy, which could lead to the Fed raising rates next month.

"Markets are realising that after a couple of weeks in the sun, storm clouds are gathering for the next Federal Reserve meeting," said David Aserkoff, European investment strategist at CS First Boston.

The odds on an early rate rise in Britain have shortened following figures confirming the robustness of economic growth in the UK economy in the first quarter.

Copyright: IOS & Bloomberg