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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 21:38 GMT
US and Asia drive Global 30 in 2005

By Jamie Robertson
BBC World business presenter

If you want to find reasons for the 10.1% rise in the Global 30 this year, you need look no further than the US.

The signs that the economy has been growing and the gradually strengthening dollar over the 12 months provided a motor for the global economy.

Odd, then, that there is only one US stock in the top 10 performers this year.

Exelon, the country's largest utility, rose 40.3% as it waded through the regulatory treacle in its takeover of Public Service Enterprise and also mulled the possibility of new projects from a nuclear-friendly administration.

James Stewart of Weaving Capital admitted the disappointing performance of the US was a bit of mystery. But he said: "I think the issue is one of globalisation.

"If you look at the German stocks that have done well, they are effectively global in their reach, and have taken advantage of not being confined in a stagnant economy. In contrast, many US companies are pretty domestically focused - not exclusively, but many of them are."

American woes

Much of the difficulty at home in the US has come from intense competition: telecoms group Verizon, down 16.9%, is having to cut costs to compete against cable and internet companies.

This month, it said it would cut $3bn off costs by reducing its pension plans for managers. The market welcomed the move, but it's not yet proved it can stay the pace in the new telecoms world.

Wal-Mart store
Wal-Mart had a mixed year in 2005

Pfizer (down 4.6%) recouped much of its losses, but only after it won a landmark case against the generic Indian drug maker Ranbaxy, protecting the patent of its Lipitor anti-cholestrol treatment.

No one makes a secret of the fact that the world needs cheaper drugs - and the generic companies are likely to be the ones who make them. Added to that, there have been a number of high profile scares over several drugs that have knocked pharmaceutical stocks.

Wal-Mart (down 3.9%) had a bad first nine months to the year. High gas prices kept shoppers at home, and they were spending less than Wal-Mart wanted when they made it to the stores.

But Christmas sales are on target, it's expanded in Japan and Brazil and Barrons magazines reckons the company's shares will rise 30% this coming year.

The biggest chemicals group in the US, Du Pont (down 1%), has been hit by high energy costs and is reshaping its businesses, concentrating on what it hopes will be growth industries - plant based products and bio-fuels.

Asian strength

If you want winners, you have to go to Asia. Even though the US may be the motor driving the global economy, China and Japan are getting the most out of the ride.

The link between the Chinese currency and the strong dollar has made China the favourite market for exporters.

But of all the Asian stocks in the Global 30, Mizuho Financials shares, up a huge 83.8% in sterling terms, stands head and shoulders above the rest - better even than Toyota (up 38.9%), which is destined, probably within months, to become the world's biggest car maker.

File photograph of Junichiro Koizumi
Junichiro Koizumi's election triumph pleased foreign investors

The performance of Mizuho's shares says a lot: they do nothing until August and then take off like a rocket.

The reason was the failure of the government to privatise the Post Office and the subsequent election.

A landslide victory for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi convinced foreign investors that the Japanese reform program was intact and the recovery on course.

Mizuho, like its rival banks, looks well set to pay off its government loans from the 1990s. Its mortgage businesses are growing as land prices rise, its clients' capital expenditure is growing, as are their export businesses.

Jonathan Allum, Japan strategist for KBC Financial Products, says: "Over the last year or so, the move has been led by capital expenditure and consumption, which is more stable than one led by public works as it was in the 1990s, or by overseas.

"The export growth comes now from China - maybe indirectly from the US, but very much from Japan's neighbours the other side of the East China Sea."

Underperforming oil

Further north in South Korea, Samsung rode the tide of the strong dollar as well, and the revival of semiconductor demand for mobile phones (Nokia managed a 24.7% rise despite its warnings of a slowdown) and handheld music devices, as well as flat-panel screens.

But the most dramatic economic development this year - the 45% rise in the oil price - failed to make star performers out of the giant oil companies.

Certainly the likes of Exxon (up 19%) and BP (up 18%) did well, but neither made the top 10.

Instead, the best of them was the Chinese producer CNOOC (up 42.4%). Certainly it failed to buy Unocal, the Californian oil group, after stirring up a political hornet's nest over national security.

BP's performance was solid but not spectacular

But it is now casting its net wide as it searches for secure sources of energy supply to fuel China's massive economy, bizarrely discovered this month by Beijing economists to be actually 17% larger than they thought.

It is even planning joint ventures with its old rival ONGC of India, a sign that as Western oil companies chase after and bid for dwindling oil reserves, the Asian oil companies will provide increasingly tough competition.

"We have already had the demand side shock of commodities from China and the other Asian countries," says James Stewart.

"Now what we are seeing is the inevitable effect of that: the growth of China in the oil exploration and supply business and the emergence of very large Chinese companies to rival the US and European groups that are - at the moment - still dominant."

Underwhelming Europe

And so to Europe, which showed great promise at the start of the year and then faded.

The German election didn't help. Faced with a choice between a Japanese government set on reform with a solid mandate and a German Euro-pudding of a Grand Coalition, fund managers shifted funds eastwards.

The European star performers are those attached to the boom industries.

Commodities this year have proved to be - well - a goldmine. BHP Billiton is the second best performer on the Global 30 Index, up 49.3% for the simple reason that everything it's into - oil, iron ore, coal, gold titanium, nickel and copper - is shooting upwards.

Added to that, it bought out WMC this year and became the world's biggest uranium miner - and yes, uranium hit 10-year highs in December.

But you have to look down to the eighth on the list (Nestle, up 24.7% benefiting from strong dollar-denominated sales) to find another European stock.

The chances of the Europeans being higher up the winners' table really rely on Asia's spectacular growth slowing - something there's precious little sign of at the moment.

BBC Global 30 intraday chart


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