High-tech stocks give cheer – temporarily

The UK technology benchmark, techMARK 100, continued its recovery last week
and gave many investors something to smile about alter the recent heavy falls
in the sector. Same of the best performances came from ARM Holdings, Baltimore,
Marconi and Psion. But analysts warn that investors are not out of the woods
yet as there could be more volatility soon.

Meanwhile the FTSE 100 appears unable to rise much further than 6,500. In
fact its fortunes seems to have been hijacked by a handful of stocks, notably
Vodafone AirTouch. Last week saw subdued activity in the London market as
investors contemplated the release of the crucial US employment report for
April, which is expected to provide strong clues as to the direction of
interest rates. Many analysts are predicting that the US government is likely
to tighten the screws on inflation.

Debenhams turns over new leaf with e-commerce venture

In the retail world, Marks & Spencer slipped again, giving up much of
the spoils from its recent good run. Retail chain Debenhams announced that it
is linking up with Express Group Newspaper, an arm of the United News and Media
Group, in an e-commerce venture. The partners plan to develop a number of web
sites to be launched in the summer. But unlike United News, shares in Debenhams
responded positively to the news.

Halifax goes to town with investment in insurance firm

The Halifax bank, has begun making serious inroads into St James Place
Capital, the UK insurer, by agreeing to take a chunky 60 per cent stake in the
company. Last week, St James put out fantastic figures, which showed a 43 per
cent jump in its UK sales for the first quarter. The company disclosed that the
direct marketing effort of J Rothschild Partnership accounted for much of the
good results. Shares in the company rose significantly.

BAA pitches for management of New York airports

Airport operator BAA is in talks with the City of New York authorities as a
bidder to take over the management of the John F Kennedy International and
LaGuardia airports, which are currently managed by the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey. If successful, BAA would take over in 2015. BAA’s share
price rose on the news.

Demutualisation and disposals

Friends Provident, the UK mutual life assurer, is considering ditching its
mutual status. If successful, it could mean a substantial windfall for many of
its policy-holders. Cookson is reported to have sold its telecoms business for
just under £100m. Also, British Airways is due to dispose of Air Liberte to a
consortium linked to Swissair for about £50m.

By Paul Audu, Investment Manager

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