There's a stockbrokers' adage about trading in times of conflict: "Sell on the sabre-rattle, buy on the battle".
Well, if there is to be a war in Iraq, let's hope the second part holds true – because the first already has. As Skanska's chief executive Stuart Graham remarks in our financial news section: "We're living in uncertain times, and businesses don't want to invest if they're not confident. Our construction business is expected to shrink in the coming year." Oh dear.

Not that you'd imagine anything was wrong if you simply peruse the numbers. Recent statistics confirm how good 2002 was – growth of 7%, orders up 8% – and augur well for 2003. Office development may have come to a shuddering halt in London, but nationally, commercial orders fell only 3% in the fourth quarter. At the same time, the fit-out market is buoyant; Bluu has a £27m order book – three times as large as a year ago (page 21). Construction Forecasting and Research reports that activity levels, work in hand and tender enquiries are all robust, even if the rate of expansion is slowing (pages 72-74), and Davis Langdon & Everest says tender prices are rising strongly. To all outward appearances, the industry is on course for the kind of 3-4% growth predicted by economists. Indeed, some executives are still worried about overheating – fears likely to be exacerbated by the call-up of industry reservists (see news).

It's just that this doesn't feel entirely real. For one thing, we know the forecasts rely on the government's fulfilling its spending commitments (which it never does). We also know the markets are in turmoil, private sector investment is stifled and consumer confidence is wavering. That's why the Bank of England cut interest rates. But more than anything, we know that when shots are fired, all bets are off. Of course, a triumphant week-long campaign would cut oil prices and reinvigorate investors – hence the "buy on the battle" line. But a protracted conflict will be like the aftermath to 9/11. Not wishing to be caught on the hop, businesses will do nothing. As for the desirability of any war, our web poll found that most readers don't want want one. Neither do the architectural blue-bloods at Saturday's Hyde Park rally (see news). But if war does come, all executives will be praying that it's not proceeded by months of jaw-jaw.

Pidgley Rex

The week’s great drama was the aborted £1bn takeover for Tony Pidgley’s Berkeley Homes by none other than his son, Tony Pidgley Jr (page 13). Psychoanalysts have long posited the existence of an Oedipal complex, a secret desire held by sons to usurp their fathers. And that appeared to be the case chez Pidgley, albeit in a business context. But unlike the Oedipus of Greek mythology, who killed his father, it was Pidgley Jr who found himself on the receiving end: his bid was squashed inside 24 hours. Pidgley Sr, it seems, had no wish for Berkeley to be taken private, nor (one imagines) to be elbowed aside by his scion. And that was that. So, in the tradition of Greek tragedy, is House of Pidgley in ruins? Unlikely. Pidgley Sr’s probably secretly proud of his boy – and, in the circumstances, might well have done the same.