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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 December, 2003, 14:33 GMT
Investors celebrate stockmarket boom
Traders are hopeful of another good year in 2004

The year has been an excellent one for the main stock markets of the United States, Europe, and Japan.

The US economic recovery has provided Wall Street with fresh momentum.

That in turn has put an end-of-year spring in the step of the main markets in the UK, France, and Germany.

Meanwhile in Japan the Nikkei has ended the year up by almost 25%, following a gloomy four years, and other Asian stock markets have roared ahead with Thailand the world's success of 2004.

It has also been a record year for the Latin American markets of Brazil and Argentina.

  • Boom and bust in the UK?

    The FTSE 100 started 2003 just below 4,000 and ended it just below 4,500, the best return since the height of the late -1990s dotcom boom.

    However, it was a close run thing and during the first few months of 2003 the possibility of the UK stock market finishing the year higher than it started seemed extremely remote.

    In March, with uncertainty over the Iraq crisis at its height, the FTSE 100 index fell below 3400 - meaning it had lost more than 50% of its value since the start of 2000.

    But the prospect of further share price growth in 2004 is far from certain.

    There are already fears that fast growth in the US could signal another boom-bust cycle.

    US economic recovery

    In the US, while 2003 has seen the dollar take a tumble, it has conversely been an excellent year for the New York Stock Exchange.

    Ongoing fears of terrorist attack and the large current account deficit may have hit confidence in the greenback, but stock traders and investors have been more upbeat than at any time since the events of 11 September, 2001.

    Since the pre-Iraq war lows of March, both the Nasdaq index of leading technology shares, and the wider Dow Jones have risen steadily, as the returning strength of the US economy boosted optimism.

    Across 2003 as a whole, the Nasdaq has risen by about 50%, and the Dow by about 25%, reaching their highest levels since early 2002.

    The Dow broke through its symbolic 9,600 mark in September, the first time since June 2002, and generally kept rising to the end of the year.

    September also saw the Nasdaq pass its key marker of 1,900 for the first time in 18 months, and it too has increased, rising to around 2009.88.

    Japan bounces back

    Asian markets ended the year strongly on Wednesday, with Thailand ringing out 2003 as the world's best-performing stock exchange, up 116% on the year.

    War in Iraq and the deadly Sars virus battered Asian economies at the start of 2003, but most stock markets posted hefty gains for the year, led by the rise in Bangkok.

    India's Bombay index was Asia's second-best performer, rising 73% for the year, followed by Pakistan with a 67% rise.

    Jakarta, Indonesia, came fourth with a 62% rise, and Japan's Nikkei index was up 24.4% for the year, its first annual gain in four years.

    Analysts said the mood was buoyed by recent economic data which suggest that 2004 could show a modest return to form for the much-battered Japanese economy.

    China bucked the overall trend, with Shanghai's B share index down more than 7% and Shenzhen's A share index losing more than 3% as players chose to deposit their money in Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong, where the H-list soared.

    Europe's upward trend

    Back in Europe, signs of a German economic recovery helped the Dax end 2003 up 38%.

    Although the German economy remains weak, with more than 4.5 million unemployed and a bulging budget deficit, increasing business confidence since the spring has given Frankfurt's leading share index a welcome and steady monthly boost.

    Euro notes
    The euro remains strong against the dollar
    Investor confidence has been further strengthened by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's planned fiscal tightening.

    Not even the ever-strengthening euro, which makes German exports more expensive outside Europe, has so far dented stock market confidence for 2004.

    The Paris stock exchange revived after 12 March's all-time low of 2403.04 for the benchmark Cac 40 index.

    With the US then verbally attacking all things Gallic due to France's less-than-enthusiastic opinion of America's actions in Iraq, it was perhaps not surprising investors got nervous.

    But since then, the Paris stock exchange has risen again on economic news rather than political trends.

    The Cac 40 ended the year at about 3534, still well short of its all-time high of 6922.33 in September 2000.

    And investors are hoping it will rise further next year, mirroring the general upward trend across Europe, betting on the recovery in global economies and corporate results.

    Argentine success story

    The world's second best performing stock index of the year was the Merval exchange in Argentina.

    It ended up 105% on the year as the economy continued to recover from its collapse in 2001.

    Booming agricultural exports and a rise in consumer spending both helped lift sentiment in Buenos Aires.

    Brazil's main share index was at a record high having risen 97% this year. And Mexican stocks were also at a record high.

    These indexes are all gaining from a move of funds into emerging markets, as institutional investors look to a global economic recovery next year.

  • MARKET DATA - 11:37 UK

    FTSE 100
    22.84 0.42%
    18.55 0.32%
    Cac 40
    14.37 0.38%
    Dow Jones
    78.53 0.76%
    35.31 1.58%
    Data delayed by at least 15 minutes

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