I am wondering whether I should dump two long-standing members of the No Pain, No Gain portfolio. Like many small investors I am a reluctant seller, preferring to hang on in the hope that the shares will eventually improve.
The portfolio is currently suffering because of my failure to be more ruthless. Clearly I should have unloaded SnackTime long before the shares slumped into single figures. And I could have been more resolute over Stock Spirits, although I have stuck a stop- loss price on the shares.
During the portfolio's 16 years in existence, some fallers have recovered to notch handsome profits. Among the current constituents, Mears, the support services group, and the leisure giant Whitbread have both recovered from earlier slumps. From being out of pocket, the portfolio has reaped handsome gains – yet it's possible that the best days of these stalwarts are over.
Mears has been a hugely profitable investment. I first descended on the shares at 23p and sold above 80p. They were then re-recruited at 272p and the price topped 540p. It is, as I write, around 420p after earlier slipping to around 200p. Whitbread, purchased at 1,105p, was at one time below 800p. The shares, recently under 5,000p, are now 5,255p after nudging 5,500p.
However, question marks, particularly over Mears, must exist. If its shares remain subdued I will have to reconsider. Worryingly, there is a chance that the picture is changing at both groups. Mears has talked about contract opportunities becoming more "subdued" and Whitbread produced quarterly figures a little below expectations.
The aspect about the Whitbread details that caught the eye was the flat restaurant performance, even if Premier Inn and Costa Coffee are again trading well. And competition is hotting up. Greg Johnson, analyst at Shore Capital, rates the shares a hold but wonders if the market will start to question long-term growth prospects in this country. He forecasts annual profits of £556m against £488.1m last time.
The wider stock market's fall from its peak has contributed to the pair's decline. Still, Mears' retreat is long-running and Whitbread, with its successful chief executive, Andy Harrison, departing, could be in a new ball game.
Of course selling is not the only difficulty – buying can offer a multitude of problems. One reader emailed me to say I displayed considerable patience over my selections. But often dallying over a buy costs money, as I experienced with Patisserie.
Luke Johnson, chairman of Patisserie, has appeared as a buyer – and seller. The shares have come off the top following his decision to pump £1.5m into Eclectic Bar Co and become chairman. About the time of the injection, Mr Johnson and other directors sold Patisserie shares to "satisfy specific market demand". The shares are 310p.
His holding in the bars business is 18.5 per cent; its shares responded to the cash infusion and his involvement by rising 13p to 63.5p. They were floated in November 2013 at 160p.