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Was I alone in detecting an outbreak of mass lunacy over the flotation of QinetiQ, that quaintly English defence research group?

For years, no-one paid QinetiQ the slightest bit of attention. When I was at
The Times, the PR people were always offering interviews with the
QinetiQ management.

Yet nothing ever materialised. The QinetiQ story was summed up for me in the
group’s bid to break the high-altitude ballooning record. It was just a lot of
hot air.

Clearly, ‘Sid’ thought otherwise. As soon as anything remotely glamorous
comes along, UK armchair investors go crazy. QinetiQ’s debut saw the nation
swept by ‘irrational exuberance’ of the sort frowned upon by former Fed chairman
Alan Greenspan.

I think it says more about the demographic profile of UK private shareholders
than about QinetiQ’s ability to deliver returns. There are hundreds of thousands
of retired investors out there for whom investing in the stock market is a hobby
as much as anything.

Along comes QinetiQ, with shades of Ian Fleming’s ‘Q’ tinkering in his
workshop, and they pile in. Small wonder the flotation was six times
oversubscribed.

QinetiQ chairman Sir John Chisholm saw the value of his 2% stake in the
company soar from £129,000 to £28m.

It is all a throwback to the 1980s, when privatisations such as British
Airways, British Steel and BP introduced millions of Britons to the stock
market. Huge advertising campaigns, such as British Gas’ ‘Tell Sid’ concept,
engineered a herd-like rush to the stalls.

You have to suspect that shareholders are more interested in the concept than
in any solid investment prospects. After all, when did a bunch of research
scientists ever put profits first?

Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist

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