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Investment analysis

It was another subdued week for glo-bal equity markets as investors diges-ted the latest batch of economic data, further concerns over corporate earnings as well as the news that the US Federal Reserve had shifted its policy bias from easing to neutral.

In the UK, the FTSE 100 was unable to break free of the 5,000-5,370 it has been languishing in since last October, with the index ending 0.8 per cent lower in spite of better than expected news on unemployment and average earnings. However, mid and small caps ended in positive territory, with the FTSE 250 gaining 1 per cent while the Hoare Govett Smaller Companies index rose by 0.7 per cent.

Retailers enjoyed an excellent week following the release of February&#39s retail sales figures which showed their fastest month-on-month rise for two years. There was not such good news for Marconi&#39s shareholders, with the share price falling by 54 per cent after refinancing talks broke down.

In the US, the S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq ended between 1.5 and 1.7 per cent lower as the Federal Reserve left interest rates on hold and shifted its policy bias to neutral. Economic data continued to point to a recovery, with consumer prices rising for the second month in a row.

It was a quiet week for European equities, with the FTSE Eurotop 300 index gaining 0.1 per cent. In France, data showing a rebound in consumer spending helped push the CAC40 0.3 per cent higher, with the market taking the news that France Telecom had produced the second-biggest loss in French corporate history in its stride.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 fell by 2.6 per cent on concerns that prime minister Koizumi may not be planning additional measures to tackle deflation. Shares in Taiwan rose to their highest level in two weeks while Korea&#39s composite index hit its highest level since March 2000. However, Hong Kong was again weaker with falling property shares pushing the Hang Seng 3.1 per cent lower.

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