THE THING IS... the London Stock Exchange

Article excerpt

IT WAS part of an elaborate alien invasion plan hatched when a UFO crashed in the US in the 1940s. It was the fault of a mischievous hacker from the London School of Economics, or the overnight work of some anti-capitalist anarchists or even the cutting of cables by a disgruntled IT company.

All these fantasy theories and more circulated the Square Mile last week when a computer breakdown paralysed the London Stock Exchange for nearly eight hours on what should have been the busiest day in the financial calendar.

But in reality, the latest embarrassment to damage London's reputation as a world financial centre looks far more like a cock- up than a conspiracy.

The Stock Exchange seems to be jinxed when it comes to computers, despite (or maybe because) Andersen Consulting has been holding its hand for at least a decade. And now its competence to run the sort of fail-proof electronic dealing system that is essential in the 21st century must be in doubt as the breakdown could not have come at a worse time.

Far from London wondering in a rather superior fashion whether it really wants to team up with Frankfurt to form a pan-European exchange, the Germans could now be forgiven for having second thoughts about the deal themselves.

Who would really want to get hitched to an exchange which shut down after the US exchanges experienced one of their most volatile sessions in history and on the last day of the UK tax year, thereby depriving private investors of millions of pounds of tax savings? …