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Independent view

As I write this article, the FTSE 100 has just fallen below 3,500 and I am starting to wonder whether turning down the offer to be vocalist in a young Parisian snowboarder&#39s band back in 1993 was, in hindsight, a bad career move.

The music business did not offer much in the way of job security although the pay can be very attractive. Like most women, I doubted my abilities, particularly as a chanteuse (although the inability to hold a tune does not appear to have hindered many well known disco divas over the last decade).

So I opted to stay in financial services and instead of worrying about what impact my falling assets would have on my career, I am worrying about everyone else&#39s instead.

We seem to be in the grip of a prolonged depression and I am not just talking about the markets. Perhaps it was best summed up by David Buik of spread-betting firm Cantor who said: “The effect of fear, uncertainty and shattered confidence hold the market in a vice-like grip of despair.”

When one is in the grip of despair, it is difficult to see the way out. Like the man who is so afraid of losing his job that he becomes stressed to the point of incompetence and loses it anyway. There is a danger that this continuing negativity could become a selffulfilling prophecy.

But the worried man had only his own fears driving him and therefore the opportunity to snap out of it or get help -a bit like playing Russian Roulette without the bullet, only no one cared to mention it.

The investment community, on the other hand, appears to be involved in a game played with a loaded gun. Or is it?

The funding requirements of final-salary schemes and with-profits funds, which make up a significant proportion of UK equity investments, may oblige fund managers to sell and, therefore, create further downward pressure on shares.

David Cumming, head of UK equities at Standard Life, told BBC Radio 4&#39s Today Programme recently that life companies have already been significant sellers of shares over the past six months to protect assets and balance sheets.

He went on to say: “Unless markets take significant further falls from here, I would not worry about the life companies&#39 position in the UK.”

I would. These guys are the major buyers and sellers of equities in the UK and one thing is for sure, they are not buying. So, just as night follows day, the market keeps falling and they have to keep selling.

The FSA has already step-ped in and relaxed the rules on capital adequacy somewhat and I am sure, if needs be, it will do so again. Such action will, like drug therapy for an incurable illness, make life a little easier but it will not solve the fundamental problems.

That will require guts – taking the initiative always does. At the moment, it seems as if those who could influence the markets are stuck in their own game of Russian roulette – sitting round a table, staring at a gun, paralysed by fear, hoping someone else will pick it up.

Meanwhile, we IFAs are battling against this tide of sentiment, trying to reassure our clients that everything is ok, things will recover and that, in fact, now may be an excellent buying opportunity if you have spare capital to invest. The problem is that we have been saying it for such a long time that without seeing any turnaround, that it is becoming a bit hollow.

I do not have the answers and I know there are complex issues involved. But, even so, I am convinced that by far the biggest problem facing the markets is being caused by what is going on in our heads rather than any external factors.

I cannot help wonder what would happen if someone had the guts to pick up the gun. Maybe it would be suicide but somehow I do not think so. What is the alternative? A long, painful decline and eventually..? And for what? An imaginary bullet.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. Speaking for my firm, these uncertain times have made us far more focused and fitter as an organisation, able to adapt more quickly to change and take advantage of any opportunities that come along and extremely positive about the future.

But just in case financial Armageddon is round the corner, I am off skiing in France in a few weeks, which gives me just enough time to loosen up my larynx and get on the Stairmaster.

Donna Bradshaw is communications director at Fiona Price & Partners


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