At our Jesuit school, the priests tried to prepare us for life after their mission. The meek shall i...
At our Jesuit school, the priests tried to prepare us for life after their mission. The meek shall inherit the Earth, they said. That sounded a bit naff to us, and the agreed translation, after much furious after-dark theological debate, was: if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
Last week, God had a jolly old chuckle. In fact He must have been rocking about as He witnessed the growing bewilderment and nervousness of investors who until a few days ago were devoted believers of their own propaganda. They heard first on Sunday that Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Cbuchi had fallen into a coma, momentarily leaving the world's second largest economy rudderless amid a natural disaster, political infighting and economic upheaval.
First Officer Yoshiro Mori stepped up to the Bridge quickly to become the new PM, but confidence has taken a further battering, on top of sharper-than-elsewhere falls on Mothers, the tech stock exchange in Tokyo. Investors who were adamant that Japan presented the ideal alternative to the overblown US market, suddenly didn't want to commit.
Next came the Microsoft ruling, which was fully discounted, but had a sobering effect anyway. Nasdaq, which has already taken a hammering several times this year, got done over once again for good measure. This time, reports of scheduled IPOs being pulled added to the uncomfortable feeling of thin ice underfoot. Those who had meant to lighten up on the dot.coms regretted their delay as the commonly preferred alternative, pharmaceutical stocks, perked up.
On Wednesday, fund managers in the UK were smiling as the last minute dosh started rolling in ahead of the end of the tax year and the deadline for investment in Isas. The total was looking promising, set to outstrip last year's binge. Marketing departments were working overtime.
There had been a computer glitch on Monday, and the smarter IFAs were already getting anxious about getting clients' funds into the right place before the witching hour. There is probably nothing more embarrassing for an IFA than to miss this deadline. Unlike poor investment performance, such administrative incompetence is impossible to conceal, and they must take all the credit.
And then on Wednesday, a deadly hush descended as the screens died. Desperate investors and their trusted representatives couldn't buy or sell. Now, any five-step idiot guide to dealing over the internet will warn you: secure your dealing lines. Pay a little more to ensure you can trade when you need to. Anyone with any link to Tradepoint, the small rival to the London Stock Exchange, was suddenly much in demand.
The LSE might have flushed pink at the snafu affecting the Little Man, but it was red-faced in front of the Big one at the Frankfurt Borse. London was to be the senior partner in a deal between the exchanges. Luckily, any schadenfreude from Frankfurt was shortlived as the biggest bank merger in history imploded. The spanner in the Deutsche/Dresdner works was a little UK subsidiary, DKB investment bank.
On Friday, He rested. The Bank of England, demonstrating laudable public spirit, gave us all a break with a brief respite from interest rate rises. Who cares why they didn't act? It was enough that one extra hassle was postponed. But, they too, now rested, will be back. And this time the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank might well be riding with them.
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