Derek Pain: NCI Vehicle Rescue beats rocky times to drive onwards and upwards

No Pain, No Gain

In the past month three companies have declared their intention of switching from the fringe Plus Quoted share-trading facility to the London Stock Exchange's junior Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Such elevations, like companies moving from AIM to full listing, are a continuing process. Although some are happy with their Plus or AIM status, others feel the need to move on.

I am wondering whether one of the No Pain, No Gain portfolio's two Plus constituents could feel the urge to go up-market. Last week NCI Vehicle Rescue drove into the City with some impressive figures and chairman Richard Jackson described prospects as "excellent".

The shares were recruited in January at 25.5p; they are now around 35p. Mr Jackson, who arrived in March, is prepared to back his conviction with hard cash. Since announcing the figures, he has picked up more than 100,000 shares, paying up to 37p. His stake is now 1.4 per cent.

At the pre-tax level NCI recorded profits of £413,500, up 150 per cent but lower than at one time expected. A celebratory maiden dividend of 0.5p a share was declared. The group was launched at the turn of the century, joined Plus at 15p a share (raising £400,000) in 2004, has made progress ever since and would be a splendid addition to AIM's ranks.

Its performance, achieved often under daunting and fiercely competitive conditions, has been quite remarkable. The group has a close affinity with bikers, offering a specialised motorcycle breakdown service. NCI also handles car and van breakdowns and offers vehicle and other types of insurance. Neil Richards-Smith, a significant shareholder, is the driving force.

English Wines Group is the portfolio's other Plus constituent. I am disappointed with its performance and its membership could be terminated. The shares were purchased at 20p, went to 26p and now reside at a sobering 14p.

The portfolio still embraces which I recruited before it moved from Plus to AIM. It is now the longest-serving portfolio share, enlisted in February 2004. The shares carry the scars that have afflicted many small-caps as sentiment turned against them. The highest price was 75p; now it is around 38p. But, which runs a retail network feeding printing orders to its Manchester plant, has a rather special claim to fame. During its five years on AIM it has paid more than £6m in dividends. Not bad for a company capitalised at only £16.9m. Its shares offer a remarkable 8 per cent yield. A more reasonable 6 per cent would lift the price to 52p. In its latest update the group said trading had been slightly softer but outlined measures to improve its performance. It looks as though profits this year will be around the £1.7m achieved last year and the dividend should be held at 3.15p a share.

One other constituent made the same journey to AIM. Myhome International, a franchise group, was a disaster, going belly-up some 18 months after switching markets. The group raised some heady cash amounts in the City which, like me, failed to see the crash coming until it was too late.

The trio of Plus departures are in various stages of their AIM journeys. One, Award International, a cash shell acquiring a digital marketing group, was due to arrive this week. Others are SureTrack Monitoring, a security tracking group, and Scancell, developing cancer vaccines. Scancell expects to switch next week and SureTrack a week later.

As I mentioned last month, Plus Markets Group, running the Plus-Quoted fringe market which could be regarded as a few rungs below AIM, is having a difficult time, although there are hopes that remedial action currently under way will eradicate losses. The Plus-Quoted market (the old Ofex), is just one of a number of trading platforms under the Plus banner. The group's shares, around 2p, display the City's disenchantment with PMG's overall performance.

Finally, two AIM stocks that I regard as the portfolio's "walking wounded". Lighthouse, an accountancy group, has signed a deal to provide financial advice to the 1.3 million members of Unison, the country's biggest public sector trade union. And hire purchase group, Private & Commercial Finance, normally a comatose share, has experienced some active trading lately. There is talk of a bid at around 20p but some maintain the activity merely represented repositioning.

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