Dotcom boom drove last FTSE peak

Press Association
Britain Europe Financial Crisis
Britain Europe Financial Crisis

Stock markets were riding the dotcom wave the last time the FTSE 100 Index touched today's heady heights.

Investors had piled into technology and IT stocks as they clamoured to capture a slice of the new digital revolution, sending the London market up to 6,950.6 points during trading on December 30 1999.

Soaring valuations placed on internet companies proved contagious, and the FTSE 100 closed at a record 6,930.2 points later that day - the last day of trading in the 20th century - a record which would last for 14 years.

At the time more than a tenth of FTSE 100 companies were in IT and telecoms, some of which have since been swallowed up by rivals or collapsed. These included Marconi, bought by Sweden's Ericsson in 2006; Telewest, now called Virgin; and Energis, which entered insolvency in 2002.

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The index also included giants such as building materials group Hanson - later bought by HeidelbergCement for £8 billion; Boots, now part of private equity-owned group Alliance Boots; and lenders Halifax and Bank of Scotland, now owned by taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group.

Other constituents included steel giant Corus, now owned by Indian conglomerate Tata; Cadbury Schweppes, bought by America's Kraft in 2010; and Thames Water, bought by a consortium led by Australian bank Macquarie in 2006.

But within months of the FTSE topping out near 7,000 points, the dotcom bubble had burst. US interest rates rose and then came the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, which accelerated unravelling stock market valuations.

By summer 2002, the FTSE had come crashing down to 3,626 points.

Sharp falls in 2009

The next slump, the credit crunch and global financial crisis of 2008/09, saw the FTSE set its most recent low of 3,512 set in March 2009.

Today's record high has been driven by investors flooding out of low-yielding government debt and into equities, with soaring stock markets leaving recovering economies trailing in their wake.

But Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown, said "beware the apples and pears comparison" between today and 1999.

He said: "First of all, the index is simply a straight line, in that it does not include dividend yields - the current index level is without nearly 14 years of dividend growth.

"Secondly, the FTSE 100 is reshuffled on a quarterly basis and so today's FTSE 100 looks almost totally different to the one of December 1999."

It is estimated that companies have paid out the equivalent of about 2,400 points in dividends since the FTSE 100 was at its record level, meaning that the FTSE is actually nearer 9,200 points.

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