The Sterling Crisis: Exhausting week of confusion ends on high note: Record trading

FORTUNES were made and lost last week as the London stock market first plunged, then soared, see-sawed and soared again.

It ended on a high note, with the market rising nearly 200 points in two days on record trading levels.

Dealers went home tired and happy, wondering what lay in store for them next week after the French referendum on the Maastricht treaty.

A few will return to their desks on Sunday evening in time for the referendum results but more will turn up early - which in the modern City of London means 6.15am - on Monday.

Fund managers - the men and women who invest billions on behalf of pension funds, insurance companies and charities - were as confused by last week's gyrations as anyone.

One seasoned professional said: 'After that experience, when we did not know what was happening from hour-to-hour, how can you expect me to predict what will happen two days from now?'

The gains were solid enough. Shares in ICI, which opened the week at pounds 10.68 and sank to pounds 10.54 on Wednesday, were changing hands by the end of the week at pounds 11.37, a gain of 6.5 per cent since the previous Friday.

Hanson, which at one point last year looked as if it might bid for the chemicals giant, saw its shares gain 14.4 per cent to 226.5p over the week.

Both companies earn a large slice of their profits overseas and stand to benefit as sterling declines. Other international earners to benefit from the euphoria at sterling's decline include Glaxo, the drugs company, Tomkins, which owns the Smith & Wesson handgun firm, and exporters such as British Aerospace.

Lord Forte became pounds 4.55m richer as the value of his hotels company jumped. But David Sainsbury saw the value of his 20 per cent stake in the supermarket company fall by pounds 5.2m as investors switched their allegiance to companies which export and those with overseas businesses.

Stock market investors exhibited an uncanny gift of foresight dueing the week.

On Tuesday, as the pound slumped they correctly guessed that the government would increase interest rates. Dealers reduced their prices accordingly.

They were proved right the next morning but to no avail. The pound continued weak despite a threatened hike to 15 per cent.

The dealers then guessed that the government would give up the fight and devalue the pound. That duly came true after the stock market had closed on Wednesday, prompting huge buying on Thursday, the busiest day since the current trading system was introduced in 1986. Investors were further encouraged by the cut in interest rates to 10 per cent.

They are now predicting a further cut to 8 per cent. Whether their record remains in tact remains to be seen next week.

The threat of higher inflation holds few fears for stock market investors as share prices traditionally offer an excllent hedge against rising retail prices.

Pension funds have 80 per cent of their assets in shares so are keen to see further rises. In many ways they were guilty of talking their own book when they went home predicting further gains next week.

(Graph omitted)

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