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What we're still learning from 2010

    As the New Year gets into its stride we can take a more detailed look at what happened in 2010 and see how this might affect things going forward.

    The rise in VAT is expected to cast a dampener over the retail sector and as the different companies report this month, it is clear there are wide discrepancies.

    Super Group, which was floated last May has remained the star of the sector - even though a 63 per cent increase in sales was tarnished by talk of rising cotton prices. John Lewis remains the darling of the middle classes, doing well for its customers and partner employees. However, stocks such as HMV continue to struggle as the luxury fashion group, Burberry, reaches new highs.

    The FTSE had gained 25 per cent by the end of the year from its low point at the start of July, and in December, the Index was up 8.1 per cent, which was the strongest December performance since 1987.

    Miners continued to prop up the Index with a 30 per cent rise for the year, driven by demand from China for raw material, which has pushed up the price of metals including copper, silver and the ever-popular gold, to record levels.

    Energy stocks had a weak year as sentiment was hit during BP's major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The constant sight of the oil gushing out over the ocean was a real feature in the US media, and although the environmental damage was not as bad as first feared, shareholders witnessed a significant fall in the share price and a total cut in the dividend.

    The company may resume paying a dividend soon, but not at the levels that made the company one of the most significant income payers in the Index.

    Finally, financials - the other dominant sector in terms of news, rather than value. It does not look set for a great first quarter. The new chief executive of Barclays may provide a transatlantic approach and Bob Diamond is certainly a change from the very British John Varley, but the sector looks cloudy as the debt problems linger.

    Anger against the bankers will be an ongoing topic for the politicians, but unlike the return of the BP dividend, shareholders in RBS and Lloyds are unlikely to see a payout over the next twelve months.

    No change, therefore, for which sectors lead the way, but performance is likely to fluctuate and that will remain a challenge. But keep looking East as that is where the growth stories remain.

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