ISEQ heads world’s gains

IN the year to date, the Irish stock market has been the star performer of the stock exchanges, by making gains of 9.7%.

Its closest rival among Western markets is the FTSE, which is up by 4.9% and underpinned by the best performing economy in Europe after Ireland.

In the United States the talk on the Dow is bullish. It may well reach 11,000 this year, a level not seen in three and a half years.

Investors have been getting back into the equity markets and lots of the losses after the high technology bubble have ben regained.

However, one stand out exception is the Nasdaq where performance in the year to date is down 5.3% on 2004. On 2,175, the hi-tech index is less than half the level it hit of 5,048 on 10 March 2000.

It has recovered from the subsequent lows hit during the turmoil that followed in 2000/2001, but few if any are predicting a return to the days when the dotcom frenzy reigned.

The past few weeks have seen the modest if steady gains in the US, with traders becoming optimistic that the Dow can hit 11,000. Last year the Dow was the weakest performer of the main indices in the States, rising by just 3.2%. The S&P gained 9% and the Nasdaq rose 8.6%.

In the year to date, all three are weak. Optimists are of the view the US has been taking a breather after post-election atmosphere which saw a reasonable end to the year.

Ken Tower, chief market analyst with Cybertrader, is touting the possibility of the Dow hitting an all-time high. However, Stuart Draper of Dolmen Butler Briscoe in Dublin thinks the real story is the ISEQ. It gained 24% last year and looks set to go rise by 15% and possibly 20% before the year is out.

The banks are the big drivers of the Irish market.

When overseas investors avoided the banks here in 2003 and 2004 they now finally have been converted to the Irish success story says Mr Draper.

Peter Jackson of Bloxham Stockbrokers is also a firm believer in the Irish story in 2005, having last week revised up his projections for the ISEQ to plus 15% at least for 2005.

Another point worth making is that the markets have been rising since October 2002 and Reuters has already suggested that in reality we could becoming to the end of the current bull run, suggesting 2006 could be heading back to more turbulent times.

Today AIB, the largest bank here, is due to produce results ahead of expectations, highlighting the buoyancy of the economy.

But Mr Draper says the smart punters will be selling their banking stocks at this stage or at least considering such an option.

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