Derek Pain: Russian magnate might attract a realistic sum for me to unload SnackTime

No Pain, No Gain

Stake building is a common but often intriguing occurrence in the stock market. Sometimes it is merely a City institution creating a holding. On other occasions, when a businessman or a company starts gathering shares in an unsuspecting target, the motive could be more ambitious such as seeking a behavioural influence or the prelude to mounting a full-scale – possibly hostile – takeover bid.

In the former category Henderson Global Investors has established a 17.3 per cent interest in ISDX-traded and former no pain, no gain portfolio constituent Chapel Down, the English wine producer. As an example of a stake being accumulated prior to bid action look no farther than Markerstudy's 11.4 per cent involvement in portfolio member, Brightside where takeover talks took place.

Just how to categorise a flamboyant display of stake building in SnackTime, the vending group, is far from easy. My guess – and it is only a guess – is that the share manoeuvres could well lead to bid action.

Behind the buying is Boris Belotserkovsky, reputed to be a billionaire businessman. He is said to be the major distributor of gaming equipment in Russia and also embraces vending interests. His involvement in SnackTime, by far the biggest loser in the portfolio, first materialised in July when he emerged with a near 4 per cent stake.

His interest, as I write, has climbed to 7.6 per cent. The buying pushed the bedraggled shares to 18p. They are now around 15p, capitalising the struggling company at a mere £2.5m. The portfolio paid 119p a share four years ago and I watched happily as the price neared 200p. As I have said many times since then I should have sold but a blinkered attitude hoping the group's performance would improve kept the portfolio on board.

With the shares so low it is hardly worth selling; my hope is that they will rally sufficiently to make any unloading produce a realistic sum.

It may be in response to the hovering of the Russian gaming magnate that SnackTime made a statement saying it "has been made aware" that Vendia Groep has a 29.96 per cent interest that is subject to a lock in for 60 per cent of the holding. However, the arrangement expires on Monday, a development that could tempt Mr Belotserkovsky into action.

From poor relation to the star of the portfolio – Booker, the cash and carry chain. It has produced another impressive performance. Aided by the recent summery weather, half-year sales rose by 16.5 per cent. Such a display included the Makro acquisition where the "turnaround is progressing well". Stripped of the Makro influence Booker sales advanced 2.3 per cent.

The wholesaler continues its expansion in India where it opened two more branches and now has six in the sub continent.

Avation, the aircraft-leasing group has, in active trading, reached 100p. A buy back of 150,000 shares at 94p accounted for a minor slice of the share action. The group, which has leased another aircraft to Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, has attracted further interest from Slater Investments, run by Mark Slater, son of the legendary Jim. It has been a shareholder for some time and has recently lifted its stake to 5.74 per cent, but another fund sold shares.

Finally Brightside, the insurance group that ended talks with Markerstudy, with which it has trading links . It seems the bidder's appearance made life difficult and a downbeat interim statement shows pre-tax profits of £7.5m against £8.2m. Last year the group achieved £17.5m but Martyn Holman, who is likely to end his reign as chief executive, says year's profits could be down by 15 to 20 per cent. He adds the board is "realistic" about second-half profits but optimistic about next year and beyond. The interim dividend stays at 0.22p a share.

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