Banner year for investors, especially outside Britain



It may have been a positive year for the FTSE 100 (FTSE: ^FTSE - news) , with the index rising 6.85pc, but UK gains look positively pedestrian when compared with the rest of the world.

The FTSE 100 has failed to break through the psychologically-important 6,000 level, despite coming close in March when it hit a high of 5965.58. For the following two months the index fell back sharply, hitting a low of 5,260.19 just two months later.

However, by far the star performing major market globally has been Germany.

The blue-chip DAX index (Xetra: ^GDAXI - news) has soared by an impressive 29.5pc, as the country's exporters benefited from low interest rates and a relatively weak currency. This is despite Germany taking up most of the slack for the heavily indebted southern European states.

The DAX has been boosted by a 42.2pc recovery in the price of insurer Allianz and a 48pc leap for drugs giant Bayer (Milan: BAY.MI - news) . A recovery in the global car industry also sent shares in Volkswagen (Other OTC: VLKAY - news) soaring by 56pc and BMW (Xetra: 519000 - news) 's equity leapt by 41pc.

Gains in France's CAC 40 (Paris: ^FCHI - news) are running at about double those seen in the UK. The blue-chip index has risen 16pc, boosted by drugs group Sanofi (NasdaqGM: GCVRZ - news) , which is the largest constituent of the index, making up 12.4pc. Large gains in oil group Total (NYSE: TOT - news) , which has a 12pc weighting, have also helped propel the index higher.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy's MIB 30 and Portugal's PSI General index have both added 8pc, while Spain's Ibex 35 has slumped 3.1pc, with confidence dragged down by sky-high unemployment and a soaring debt-to-GDP ratio. The index has fallen despite its third-largest constituent Zara owner Inditex soaring by 70.5pc over the year.

One of the main causes of the Ibex fall has been a 22pc slump in telecoms group Telefonica, which makes up 14.2pc of the index and is its second-largest constituent. The share which has most impact on the Ibex is Banco Santander, with a weighting of 18.2pc. Its shares have risen 4pc.

However, Greek shares have managed to perform better than any other market, with the Athens Stock Exchange General Index rising a very impressive 32pc. But this is a recovery from a low base and says more about how far the market fell in 2011 than how much things have improved this year.

Despite nervousness as the US approaches the "fiscal cliff", Wall Street has enjoyed a good year. The 30-stock Dow Jones (DJI: ^DJI - news) industrial average has risen 8pc, while the broader S&P 500 has soared by 13.4pc.

The US economy has shown remarkable strength. The country's third-quarter GDP growth was recently revised up to 3.1pc from 2.7pc, its highest growth rate since late 2011.

However, economists remain unconvinced that such a speedy recovery can continue into next year.

Emerging markets have turned in a mixed performance but the undoubted loser is China.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index has risen just 0.9pc, making it one of the worst-performing global indices. Growth has slowed in the world's second-largest economy but GDP is still expected to have increased by about 7.5pc and should accelerate above 8pc in 2013.

The rest of the so-called "BRIC" countries have fared better. Brazil's Bovespa (Sao Paolo: ^BVSP - news) has risen 7.7pc, with Russia's Micex also up 5.3pc. The clear winner, however, is India, where the blue-chip BSE Sensex rocketed an impressive 25pc.

However, none of the major emerging markets have managed to outperform Germany.

Rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is always strong but the Kiwis have managed to beat their Aussie cousins in the stock market stakes.

The ASX 200 in Sydney has risen 14.3pc, with the NZX (Other OTC: NZSTF - news) 50 up 24pc. The Australian performance has been hampered by the index's heavy exposure to mining shares, which have had a downbeat year on fears of stalling growth in China.

So, all-in-all, equity investors have had a banner year in 2012 especially those investing outside the UK. Germany, although just pipped by a recovering Greece, was the best investment proposition of the year in terms of performance and liquidity.

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