Belfast Telegraph

Blue-chip stocks take battering as euro crisis hits markets

The Week Ahead

By Toby Green

And it all started off so well. When the bell rang on the first trading day of 2011, with the Footsie at a two-and-a-half year high of 6,013.87, dealers would have been forgiven for feeling pretty confident about the year ahead.

Yet by October the benchmark index had dropped to below 5,000 points for the first time in more than 12 months, making previous predictions by some experts that 7,000 points could be an achievable target during the year look, in hindsight, laughable.

While blue-chip stocks have managed to partially recover since then, the eurozone debt crisis has never been far from investors' minds.

Yet the first proper slide of 2011 came as a result of events in Asia. Little more than a month after the Footsie closed at 6,091.33 in February - which would turn out to be the year's peak - a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, prompting the index to shed nearly 250 points in just four sessions.

Stocks actually managed to recover fairly quickly, but they did not find it so easy in August.

A raft of worrying economic news - including the US losing its AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's and eurozone bond yields shooting up - meant that panic swept through global markets, and the Footsie fell nearly 10% in just five days.

Since then, the market has remained extremely volatile to any signs of further slowdown.

The eurozone crisis has been the main cause of headaches for investors, with a seemingly endless number of summits between politicians, none of which has inspired confidence that they have it under control.

It is not surprising, therefore, that among the blue-chip companies, the defensive stocks have performed particularly well.

Drugs maker Shire tops the list in what has been a strong 12 months for pharmaceutical companies in general while cigarette makers British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco also make it into the top 10.

The pressure on consumers' wallets has been a key theme, and it's been a terrible year for a number of high street stalwarts.

Thomas Cook, Mothercare and HMV are just three companies who will not look back on 2011 with fondness.

There have also been some new faces on the scene. In May the UK saw its biggest-ever IPO with the $60bn (£39bn) float of Glencore while last week steelmaker Evraz and gold producer Polymetal became the first Russian companies to trade on the UK's top-tier index.

Gold companies may have actually performed relatively well, but Evraz and Glencore will certainly be hoping 2012 is a better year for the rest of the commodity stocks - miners and energy groups make up half of 2011's bottom 10.