Expert view: The winners and losers of 2008

By Elissa Bayer, December 23, 2008
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Looking back at 2008, the year divided into two sections. January to August were not unpleasant, although the words “sub-prime loan” clearly entered the vocabulary. But the last third of the year was very different, when every day seemingly brought a fresh financial disaster.

The timing of our own New Year in September coincided with an 800-point fall in the Dow Jones Index and the fall of Lehman Brothers, which is still causing waves throughout the financial sector.

There are plenty of reasons why one would want to draw a veil over 2008 and it is not easy to pick out the ‘winners’. It is probably easier to say that most of the wins in 2008 were matched by someone else losing - and that might explain why there does not seem to be much of a feel-good factor.

The falling interest rate for those with mortgages is obviously beneficial, but it has also meant that those who have prudently saved all their lives and have money on deposit have never seen such poor rates of interest.

Also, for retirees looking to interest rates to fund their lifestyle, the news has not been good.

Consumers are faced with a huge range of choices, with everyone in the high street lining up to offer price reductions. This has been matched by the closure of Woolworths, MFI and others. Many people have lost money with companies that have managed to bank their cheques, even if they have not provided the service for which they were paid.

Mining shares and banks had a terrible year. HBOS and Lloyds TSB are due to go up the aisle together and neither bride nor groom are very happy with the match. Certainly none of the guests - the shareholders and deposit holders - are at all pleased, which does not bode well for the future.

Sterling, the dollar and the euro have all had mixed fortunes and now we are faced with sterling’s parity against the euro, which seemed unthinkable only a few months ago. People who have been running off to America to get $2 for every £1 are now only receiving $1.50.

The Prime Minister probably had a slightly better year than he had anticipated, but the Chancellor almost certainly has not. Taxpayers may have seen some short-term gains but 2009 and 2010 are certainly going to see some tax increases, which will make life slightly more difficult again.

Smokers and drinkers both saw price increases. The pub trade has had a bad year as the smoking ban meant more drinkers stayed at home to drown their sorrows. However, tobacco shares have performed well as smoking levels in the emerging markets continue to hold up.

Chanucah is always a positive festival with an extra candle being lit every day as the miracle unfolds. One can only hope that, after the events which unfolded in the last quarter of 2008, the first quarter of 2009 will have better things to offer. I am not totally convinced, but I am a strong believer in hope.

Elissa Bayer FSI is a director of private clients at Charles Stanley & Co Ltd

    Last updated: 11:58am, December 23 2008