Having been subdued for months in the run-up to the hostilities, share prices rallied sharply in the week ahead of the conflictonly to fall again towards the end of the month, overall netting a positive return after two months of declines (See The World Frets Over War; FTSE Falls Again ).
The best performing market of the month was Brazil where shares reacted positively to the earlysteps taken by the new PresidentLuiz InacioLula da Silva and ended up 13.57%. Coming in second through five was:
- Pakistan (11.98%)
- Israel (9.96%)
- Denmark (7.20%)
- Ireland (4.87%)
However, an abrupt about-face was the action of one of February’s best performers: Turkey. The Asia Minor country had returned 10.70% last month on speculation that it would benefit from an aid package in return of allowing the use of its territory in the attack on Iraq. But when theTurkish parliament rejected the idea, the aid package fell through and theTurkish markets dropped accordingly, heading up March’s list of worst performing countries down 18.94%. Rounding out the other five worst performers was:
- South Africa (-10.86%)
- Greece (-9.64%)
- Italy (-8.08%)
- India (-6.70%)
Sector performance was mixed in March with gainers in general retailers (4.42%), personal care (4.33%), pharmaceuticals (2.95%), electricity (2.33%) and leisure & hotels (2.02%). Tobacco reversed February’s gains and turned in March’s worst sector performance (-13.66%).
At the individual stock level, the biggest gain on the month came from Mizuho Trust and Banking, the Japanese financial company, after it received a credit upgrade because of the consolidation of group operations. Better financial news also helped shares in Centrepoint Energy, the Texas power distributor, as the company extended a $3.85 billion credit facility.
The biggest loser was HealthSouth, the US healthcare group, which found itself fighting for its financial survival after the discovery of a $1.4 billion fraud. Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel group, saw its shares battered after a dispute within management over the best way to resolve the company’s financial problems while KGI Securities, the Thai financial group, suffered after incurring a five million baht fine from the local stock exchange for violating regulations.