Corporate finance: Nearly all signs point to yes.

The fact is that some commentators say everything’s on the up – so rush out and hire some new hands, you might think. But hold on. Other reports, you sense, are written by glass-half-empty kind of people.

There is no need to take my word for it. Just look at the material that has been put out. Let’s start with a fairly good indicator – the Pricewater-houseCoopers IPO Watch Europe survey. Back at the beginning of April, the latest installment of this must-read market review said that the first three months of 2004 pointed to the fact that the IPO was well on the way to recovery. Europe witnessed 56 IPOs during the period – 39 of those (worth around £757m) took place in London.

Great news. And all you IPO experts out there should be revving up your engines because it sounded like 2004 would be a bumper crop. The list of companies declaring their IPO intentions was also inspiring. Sportswear manufacturer Umbro, Saatchi & Saatchi, Pinewood and Shepperton and Halfords all made the market suddenly look dynamic again.

The stability of the London stock market, plus the upward trend in market valuations, have both made flotation a more attractive option for raising funds. Add to that new rules that allow companies listed elsewhere in Europe to also list on AIM but at less expense and you have quite an optimistic picture.

But then Numis Corporation, the stockbroker and investment bank, decided to throw a spanner in the works. Chief executive Oliver Hemsley told The Times that ‘there is no frenzy as far as IPOs are concerned’.

It’s difficult to know whether Hemsley was concerned about his company’s market share of IPOs or whether he was taking a broader view. But for the keen observer, it poses the question: what is going on? I suspect we’ll have to wait for second-quarter figures to emerge before we know whether Hemsley is right.

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