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Investment analysis

With the exception of Japan, where share prices rose sharply, it was a fairly quiet week for equities with most of the world&#39s major indices ending last week slightly lower. By Friday&#39s close, the FTSE World index had fallen 0.1 per cent.

In the UK, the FTSE 100 fell by 0.5 per cent. MMO2 saw its shares jumping by more than 15 per cent on the back of bid talk. It was not such a good week for Abbey National, whose shares fell by 15 per cent after reporting higher than expected losses and warning of another challenging year ahead.

In spite of last week&#39s fall in share prices, the FTSE 100 recouped all of January&#39s losses last month, rising by 2.1 per cent in February.

Mid-cap stocks fell slightly last week, with the FTSE 250 falling by 0.6 per cent, but the index enjoyed a strong month, rising by 4.1 per cent and is now some 8.1 per cent higher since the start of the year.

There was no let-up in demand for smaller companies, with the FTSE SmallCap index ending 0.4 per cent higher.

In the US, stocks ended generally flat with slightly disappointing economic data being offset by continued strength in the corporate sector. By Friday&#39s close, the S&P 500 was showing a gain of 0.1 per cent while the Dow Jones was trading 0.3 per cent lower. Tech stocks again underperformed, leaving the Nasdaq 0.4 per cent lower, its sixth consecutive weekly decline.

European equities followed a similar pattern and, in spite of talk of a cut in interest rates, stocks were unable to add to their recent gains, with the FTSE Eurotop 300 index ending 0.3 per cent lower.

In Japan, shares rose to their highest level in four months on signs that domestic demand may be starting to pick up as well the level of disposals by Japanese institutions slowing down. The Nikkei 225 rose by 3 per cent, once again moving above the 11,000 level.

In the currency markets, the euro fell against the dollar which rose to a three-month high versus the yen as well as gaining ground against sterling. Oil prices remained stubbornly high on concerns over dwindling inventories, with crude futures rising to their highest level since just before the war in Iraq almost a year ago.

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