The week's winners
Domestic & General up 3.1%

St Paul Companies up 5.5%

The week's losers
Zurich Financial Services down 17%

SVB down 16.3%
Cox down 11.4%
R&SA down 10.8%

The week's winners
Domestic & General up 3.1%

St Paul Companies up 5.5%

The week's losers
Zurich Financial Services down 17%

SVB down 16.3%
Cox down 11.4%
R&SA down 10.8%

The mists of uncertainty were beginning to swirl around AXA this week.

Alliance Capital, a US fund manager in which

AXA has a hefty stake, became embroiled in the Enron disaster.

Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, said the state should consider suing Alliance Capital.

Alliance had held Enron stock for the state pension fund, which lost $325m (£229m) on the energy
trader's demise.

Alliance manager Alfred Harrison continued to buy Enron shares even as the price fell. The stock was sold in late November, when shares were 28 cents (20p).

AXA was already slipping at the end of last week when a profit warning from Swiss Life on Thursday sent shockwaves way beyond European life insurers.

AXA slipped 2.9% in Paris on Friday and this week continued to slide.

Its stock was hovering at just above ¤20 (£12.20) on Tuesday and market observers were watching closely for any signs it might be dragged down by Alliance Capital's difficulties.

If AXA was not already fighting off the cold generated by Swiss Life's sneeze, it was still doing better than Zurich Financial Services.

Zurich's stock was dismissed as "not tempting" by Merrill Lynch last week.

Analyst Andrew Goodwin at Commerzbank feared Zurich may have to wait for the publication of its results on 21 March to coax investors back.

But fellow analyst Charles Graham at Williams de Broë said the stock might be about to rebound.

He upgraded the stock from "sell" to "hold" this week.

He identified concerns over asbestos - which have been dragging Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) down - as well as that old chestnut, WTC claims, for causing investors to hold back.

"People are a little bit nervous," he said. "But the stock may have just begun to turn the corner."

A realigned reporting structure would bring greater clarity of responsibility and give him cause for measured optimism.

Goodwin said only the results season would provide the reassurance investors require.

He warned that better profits might not show until the second half of the year.

In the meantime, Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) appears to be sweeping up the residual appetite for insurance stock.

Received wisdom has investors buying into JLT because they see it as a safe way to profit from rising rates.

If true, that could give the broker another month or so of attractive performance before confidence returns to other parts of the market.