Derek Pain: It's farewell to Alkane, as Interserve takes its place


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The Independent Online

Should I dump Alkane Energy? Last month I promised that the No Pain, No Gain portfolio would abandon the shares if they fell below 20p.

Well, last week the price – very briefly – went under my stop-loss level and I must admit I was tempted to ignore such a fall from grace and retain the stock. But after much heart searching I am selling up at 21.5p, incurring a loss of around £2,400.

Alkane, recruited at 40.75p in August 2013, suffered unexpected setbacks last year and pre-tax profits were a disappointing £3.2m. Although a record, they compared unfavourably with earlier hopes that the figure would emerge nearer £4.5m. My hesitation over its fate stemmed from the shares not being short of friends in the City. And there is evidence trading will improve this year, with the broker Liberum suggesting profits could hit £5.4m.

My other share under threat is Stock Spirits. It, too, has produced flat results, but the shares have actually moved forward to 220p against my stop-loss level of 180p. Last year the drinks group announced it was enduring a troublesome hangover after tax was increased in Poland, its main vodka market. Ultimately, revenue fell 14 per cent to €292.7m (£209.1m) but pre-tax profits jumped to €49m from a loss of €8.9m. Special charges depressed the 2013 return. The stock was enlisted a year ago at 278.75p and subsequently climbed above 315p, but then came profit warnings that sent the price below 200p.

On a happier note, the revival at Essenden, the ten-pin bowling chain, continues. Last year sales rose by 6.6 per cent and adjusted pre-tax profits came in at £3.2m, up 59 per cent. However, the statutory figure pales into a £3.9m loss, once the obtuse ramifications of an exchange of loan notes into shares is taken into account. With sales in the first 10 weeks up 4.2 per cent, the shares, recruited at 24p, edged ahead to 68.0p. The group is exploring "strategist" options. I suppose that suggests the possibility of takeover action – either for the company or by it.

I am plugging the gap left by Alkane by recruiting Interserve, at 599p, to the portfolio. The support service and construction group acquired a constituent, MacLellan another support service group, nine years ago, in a somewhat controversial mix-and-match cash or shares deal. A few weeks after the takeover was clinched, Interserve shares suffered a battering. They fell from around 380p to 260p following the revelation of minor accounting errors. Since then the group has moved ahead impressively and the shares topped 750p last year. They later slipped to around 500p with its exposure to some perhaps more vulnerable countries accounting for the retreat.

But the shares have strengthened. Last year revenue was up 33 per cent, the dividend increased from 21.5p to 23p and the future workload was put at £8.1bn. It's true pre-tax profits slipped but the £61.9m produced was heavily influenced by a series of exceptional charges.

Interserve lifts the portfolio to a dozen. I hope eventually to descend on another four shares to bring its strength to 16 members. Such a number, I feel, represents an ideal spread for my little exercise.

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