Derek Pain: Essenden's excellent efforts over Christmas have bowled me over

The no pain, no gain portfolio has experienced a near-crescendo of announcements with more than half of the constituents reporting in the past few weeks. Most statements related to trading but a couple involved new funds.

Pride of place must go to Essenden, the little tenpin bowling business recruited just over a year ago. The 30-strong, once-ailing chain produced the sort of sales increase many enterprises can only dream about. In the calendar year the advance was a fairly modest 0.6 per cent but in the 15 weeks to 12 January the uplift was a much more impressive 8.4 per cent. And the festive season enjoyed a celebratory finale as the six weeks to 12 January produced 8.5 per cent; with the two Christmas weeks, when most children were on school holidays, scoring a remarkable 11.1 per cent rise.

No wonder chief executive Nick Basing, the man behind the group's revival, was moved to declare that two consecutive years of progress provide "unequivocal evidence of a fully reinvigorated business". The stock market agreed, lifting the shares, at the time of writing, 20.5p to 55.5p. The group is hunting for acquisitions and the share upsurge should make any deal much easier to accomplish. The portfolio joined the indoor-bowling experience at 24p.

Booker, the cash and carry chain that is the undisputed star of the portfolio, suffered a modest share retreat following its latest trading update.

The figures were not at all poor, but after such a prolonged advance profit taking was bound to occur. The shares, around 168p a little while ago, are about 155p now. But as the portfolio arrived at 24.5p, I am not at all perplexed.

Over 16 weeks sales, including the Makro acquisition, were up by 19.1 per cent. Chief executive Charles Wilson, largely responsible for the group's progress, says absorbing Makro is "on track". Later this year Booker intends to distribute £60m cash to shareholders.

Mears, the support-services group embracing social housing and home care, rolled out an upbeat trading statement, ahead of results in March. Its two acquisitions, Morrison Facilities Services and ILS, continue to bed down well. Mears shares topped 480p but are now around 474p. The portfolio invested at 272p.

Spirit Pub Co extended the cheer. In a 20-week stretch its managed pub turnover rose 4.3 per cent but, perhaps more significantly, the group's leased pubs returned a positive performance with net income 1.3 per cent higher. The shares hover near their high at 85.5p. The portfolio paid 42p.

The most recent recruit, power-generator Alkan, ahead of figures also due in March, revealed output rose 15 per cent last year. The shares arrived at 40.75p in August; they are around the 49p mark.

But Animalcare, the veterinary-products group, failed to enhance the portfolio. Although it produced a first-half revenue increase of 5.9 per cent the shares are a few coppers below the buying level. Still, the group should benefit from the planned introduction of compulsory micro chipping. The shares are 167.5p, against a 171p outlay.

The two fund raisers were Findel, the home-shopping group, and aircraft leaser Avation.

Findel's largest business, the successful Express Gifts, has increased its securitisation facility from £105m to £130m.

And Avation has got extra cash with an Australian institution providing a new $9.5m ((£5.8m) stand-by facility. The loan will be secured on the group's fleet of five Fokker aircraft.

Findel was recruited at the equivalent of 142p, a week before Essenden; the shares are now nudging 300p.

Avation landed at 83.5p at the start of 2011 against 145p nowadays, just a shade below the peak.

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