At last I've been able to follow my own advice

When it comes to culling my portfolio and getting rid of stocks that don't deliver, I usually fall at the first hurdle. The taxman's forced me to do an about-turn
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The Independent Online

There is no escaping Hector, that dreadful bowler-hatted little chap with the deceptive grin. Even with the two extra days he granted us laggards we still had to give him his pound of flesh this week. But where was it to come from? It's true we had enjoyed a great investing year in the 12 months to April 2000 - even monkeys could have made a profit on the stock market - and very few of us failed to make substantial capital gains.

There is no escaping Hector, that dreadful bowler-hatted little chap with the deceptive grin. Even with the two extra days he granted us laggards we still had to give him his pound of flesh this week. But where was it to come from? It's true we had enjoyed a great investing year in the 12 months to April 2000 - even monkeys could have made a profit on the stock market - and very few of us failed to make substantial capital gains.

In addition our luck was compounded because unlike the pay-as-you-earn people we had almost 10 months before the ubiquitous Hector would insist on receiving his share. The goody-goody teacher's pets among us put the appropriate amount into a separate interest-bearing account last spring, ready to grease Hector's palm this week. But those of us who chase the dragon invested our profits in such ephemeral ventures as internet and start-up technology stocks and discovered the hard way that we were not after all able to walk on water. The profits were decimated but Hector still wanted his share.

This week the evil day could not be postponed any longer, I had to sell shares to pay my capital gains.

I decided it was time to take a dose of my own medicine and go bottom fishing (please forgive the expression, it is quite acceptable in the best investor circles). Normally this refers to trawling the markets in search of shares with rock bottom prices that are likely to bounce, but in my case the market I was searching was my own portfolio. I often write about the importance of culling your portfolio and getting rid of those stocks that have not lived up to your expectations, yet like the cobbler and his hole-filled shoes I never seem to take my own advice. This week I did it. Big ones like Iceland and Vodafone. Middle-sized ones such as NewMedia Spark. Tiddlers such as Westside Acquisitions, The Ninth Floor and Supreme Plastics. All sold. Some were technology stocks, some were not, but they all had one thing in common. They had let me down because their prices had not performed in the way I had expected.

As far as I am concerned they are all losers and, because I did a final check on the newswires before I finally cut the umbilicals, they are unlikely to worm their way back into my affections in the immediate future. I accumulated enough to pay Hector for the year ending April 2000 and realised plenty of losses to offset against this year's gains, so I suppose I mustn't grumble.

My daughter Tina, who is a researcher, bases much of her strategy on statistics. Personally, I take them with a pinch of salt, but some of the lifestyle facts she passed on this week gave me food for thought over sectors that might become fashionable in the future.

More of us are living alone. Thirty years ago 10 per cent of the adult population lived in single-person accommodation. Today the figure is 30 per cent. To me this implies a boom for builders who specialise in affordable, small houses and flats. We are getting older. By 2020 the number of people over the age of 70 in Britain will equal the number under the age of seven. The healthcare sector and retailers catering for the more mature adult should do well. Tina also tells me that the number of complementary medical practitioners in Britain now exceeds the number of general practitioners, which should be good news for companies such as Phytopharm.

Leisure is a growing activity. Since 1987, our spending on leisure activities has grown 25 per cent while expenditure on food and drink has only risen by 1 per cent. This bodes well for the leisure industry but explains why the supermarkets seem to be static.

Tina swapped this information with me in return for my opinion on the new Orange issue. Like virtually everyone else in the country you will be aware that the mobile phone operator is offering part of its equity to the great British public (indeed, you could hardly fail to know about the new issue because Orange has spent £25m on advertising it).

I find it hard to recommend Orange and that's because I have my doubts about the telecoms sector as a whole. You will note that earlier in this article I mentioned that I have this week sold Vodafone shares at a loss. You will probably recall too that a few weeks ago one of your fellow readers, a telecommunications expert, said the financial future for the industry as a whole was far from rosy.

But what really concerns me is that I am not convinced that the telecoms companies are correct in their predictions about where mobile communication is going. Orange has spent over euros 18bn so far buying networks for the third generation of mobile phones which will make mobile internet access a reality. Standing on a mountain top or sitting in a train we will be able to surf the net. We will also be able to watch a video. Lucky us. But is this really what we want? Is this what life has in store?

When mobile phones became a reality it was exciting and the majority of us were tempted. At first they were cumbersome and expensive. But then call charges came down, telephones became dinkier, and now they are part of our everyday lives. However, call me old-fashioned, but I cannot see that the ability to access the internet will be much of an added attraction and I certainly would not be prepared to pay for the service. Time is proving that the internet is a useful aid in the provision of information and services but it has certainly not invaded our lives to the extent that was originally predicted. I think Orange and the other telecoms companies paid too much for their third generation licences and will live to regret it.

Add to all this the fact that BT and Deutsche Telekom have various investor offerings in the pipeline and you will not be surprised to learn that, despite all the hype, for me the future is not orange.

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