What happens next?

By Elissa Bayer, April 14, 2011

We are now a few months into the year and the global economic situation appears as uncertain as ever with many sectors - and countries - facing their own set of difficulties.

The overthrow of the Mubarak government in Egypt started a trail in the Middle East as country after country seeks to overthrow their despotic rulers, and replace them with a more democratic way of life. After Egypt has come Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and, of course, Libya, and the outcomes are still very unclear.

In the UK, the Osborne Budget proved a short one-day headline wonder and cutting the fuel duty, which was announced with a great fanfare, had to be with a higher tax on the oil exploration companies.

Proving just how far they cannot be pushed, energy firms Statoil and Centrica swiftly cancelled or threatened to cancel or suspend projects in the North Sea worth millions of pounds, preferring to go to less safe geographic regions, but in areas where the tax regime is less punitive.

BP seems to have survived last year's oil disaster, but is still facing investigation and the tie-up with the Russian company, Rosneft, has proved that the Russians are just as shrewd at protecting their own interests. The new chief executive, Robert Dudley, had to quickly realise that his brief honeymoon was over. A Russian tribunal tried to prevent BP's proposed transaction with Rosneft, which included Artic exploration and a share swap transaction.The share swap may procede but the exploration programme has been stopped in its tracks. BP believed it had full Russian support but this was not the case.

The retail sector continues to have problems with one in five companies, including Oddbins the wine seller, going into administration, and HMV is in talks to reorganise itself again with a possible sale of Waterstones. John Lewis remains the middle-class favourite, but even it has announced a reduction in like-for-like sales. Marks & Spencer is to cross the Channel and open up in Paris. The chain is now managed by a Dutchman and it will be interesting to see if he can crack the international market as up until now the previous British management has never got it right.

Back to the Middle East: it will be interesting to see how long the Gaddafi empire does last and what comes after. Markets have seemingly recovered from the spectre of problematic oil production and the Saudis have slipped in to take up the oil production not coming from Libya. However, the oil price is still hovering in the high teens and shows no sign of falling back. Even the fact that the Japanese nuclear reactor is still leaking does not seem to have had an effect on sentiment.

Elissa Bayer is director of private clients at Charles Stanley

Last updated: 11:59am, April 14 2011