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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 10:34 GMT
Dollar strength boosts Global 30

By Jamie Robertson
BBC World business presenter

Dollar bills
The strengthening dollar has helped some companies

Investors have chalked up another month of gains on the BBC's Global 30 index of the world's biggest companies.

But despite a rise of 4.1% in November, there were some signs in the last week that the steam might be running out of the rally.

With the oil price slipping well below $60 a barrel, the oil giants Exxon (up 0.6%), BP (unchanged) and CNOOC (unchanged) barely feature.

However, there was a flurry of excitement over BP's bid to take a stake in the Singapore-listed China Aviation Oil, the jet fuel trader that collapsed in 2004 in a huge trading scandal.

The prize for BP, and anyone else trying to get a slice of the 30% on offer, will be entry into the huge Chinese aviation fuel market.

The group's decision to double its alternative energy investment was met with indifference on the markets.

Gold reserves

As far as commodities are concerned, gold held a lot more interest for investors as prices reached 18-year highs.

Investors have welcomed BP's China plans

"You have got to see the gold price in the terms of the rising commodity prices generally and also in the face of rising Asian demand," said John Hatherly, head of global analysis at M&G Investments.

He also pointed out that the Russian and South African central banks were increasing their bullion reserves and said, "With them looking to increase their holdings, there is a good chance the price will push through the symbolic $500 an ounce level."

The only big miner on the index, BHP Billiton, was up 6.8% on the month.

Some of the best performers achieved double-digit growth despite a slew of bad news.

A possible price war threatened to derail Samsung's shares when Intel and Micron Technologies said they would join forces to expand in flash memory chips used in mobile phones and music players - Samsung's home territory.

Then Korea's Fair Trade Commission said it was investigating Samsung's deal with Apple Computer, after rivals complained that it sells chips more cheaply to Apple for its iPod than it does to local firms.

Finally, it faces a $300m (174m) fine for price-fixing in the US.

All the same, Samsung shares roared ahead, up 11.5% on the month.

Dollar factor

Similarly, Toyota suffered two of the biggest recalls in its history and a major fire at its Tokyo affiliate, Toyota Auto Body.

Fans waiting for the launch of the Xbox 360
Microsoft has invested heavily in the new Xbox

Instead of pausing to gauge the damage from the fire, the shares sailed on past the 6,000 yen level for the first time. They are up 8.5% on the month.

And Mizuho Financial, which increased its October share sale by 9%, netting $4.5bn, watched its shares ratchet up another 8.9% during the month.

Microsoft's 10.3% rise came in the face of mixed reception to its launch of the Xbox 360 game console, with reports of a few (it claimed) "isolated" glitches.

Hanging over the project is the fact that it has cost Microsoft the equivalent of the annual GDP of Iceland ($12bn or so) to launch this thing - and that's a lot of money, even in Microsoft terms.

Never mind the hiccoughs, the driving force behind these stocks has been the strength of the US economy and the dollar (up 3% against the yen, 2% against the euro).

US GDP was revised upwards on the last day of the month by half a percentage point - and the Federal Reserve hinted that there was an end in sight to the relentless rise in interest rates.

"With the dollar moving ahead, it's made it a lot easier for the big exporters in Asia to make gains," said Stephen Pope, head of equity research at Cantor Fitzgerald Europe.

"But also we are beginning to see the Japanese economy gain some of its own momentum."

Growth worries

Shares in General Electric, which has just crept above Exxon once more to become the US's biggest company by market cap, put in their best performance in almost two years.

GE raised its profit forecast, increased its share buyback programme to $25bn over three years, and agreed to sell its reinsurance business to Swiss Re for $6.8bn.

Other signs of optimism came from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has a 4.3% stake in Citigroup.

He waxed lyrical over how he thought the shares could rise 50% to more than $70 in the next year, as Citi restructures and recovers from a series of corporate scandals. The shares are up 8.5%.

On the downside, though, a set of worrying forecasts from Vodafone sent the stock down 15.9%.

As well as worries about its future growth, investors focused on bad performance in Japan. So it was of some comfort that its main rival NTT DoCoMo was the second-worst performer on the index, down 6.45%.

The third-worst performer was GlaxoSmithKline (down 2.7%), which got a nasty note from the US Food and Drug Administration saying it wants to restrict the use of the company's best selling Advair asthma drug.

It proposes that only patients who do not respond to other drugs should be prescribed Advair and the older Serevent, also made by Glaxo.

Advair had sales of $1.3bn in the third quarter, 16% of Glaxo's drug revenue.

Sentiment is against drug makers at the moment. Pfizer shares are down 0.2%, despite the generic drug maker Ranbaxy being banned from selling its copycat version of Pfizer's blood pressure pill Accupril in the US.

Stephen Pope says the issue of generic competition is not going away and the branded manufacturers will have to embrace the industry.

"In the past, the big branded drug companies have pooh-poohed the idea of going into the market to make generic drugs," he says.

"But Novartis made acquisitions earlier this year, making them for a while the biggest generic manufacturer - and that's given them a broader footprint and greater revenue stream, and it's come though in their share price, which is up over 11% in six months."

BBC Global 30 intraday chart


FTSE 100
22.84 0.42%
18.55 0.32%
Cac 40
14.37 0.38%
Dow Jones
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35.31 1.58%
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