Derek Pain: The 2014 optimists were wrong, but this year could be different

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The Independent Online

This time last year the stock market was awash with enthusiasm. Confidence was running so high there were firmly held convictions that the FTSE share index was due for a record-breaking run, with many alleged experts predicting it would top 7,500 points by the year-end.

What a contrast as this year begins to unfold. Many feel the Footsie could actually give ground, although there is guarded optimism that it could achieve a new peak, just managing to reach 7,000.

With the eurozone stagnant, indications that the world economy is stuttering, Russia looking vulnerable and international tensions still evident, the more gloomy mood is quite understandable. And to pile on the agony, Britain faces a general election in May that might not produce a clear winner.

Last year's dismal display, with the Footsie actually retreating to 6,566, caught many on the hop. But who knows? The caution over this year's performance could also be misplaced. I was an optimist last year, looking for the Footsie to reach 7,200. Although my predicting record is pretty poor, I'm sticking my neck out and going for another 7,200, despite the year's indifferent opening.

On the stock market the festive season promised, only to deceive. The "Santa rally" never really got going. And there was just a dribble of company announcements, probably less than in previous years. Five of the No Pain, No Gain portfolio's constituents were in action, offering various tidbits. But it was the shares of two companies that had nothing to say that caught my eye.

Booker, my star performer, continued its recovery. It had endured a torrid time, falling at one point to 115p, but now it is within hailing distance of its 176.5p high. And Whitbread confounded the "sell" brigade by hitting another peak, even nudging 4,800p.

One stock that produced figures during the City's slack period was my latest recruit, Fulham Shore. The aspiring restaurant force, then running just one pizza franchise, served up interim profits of £84,000 against a corresponding loss. The group later acquired the seven-strong Real Greek chain. It now has nearly £4m in the bank and remains on the look-out for additions to the Real Greek franchise. It is also scouting around for other takeovers.

Alkane Energy, the electricity group, chipped in with a contract that should provide £14.4m of additional long-term finance, and the seemingly ever-active Avation, the aircraft leaser, captured yet another new customer, the regional division of Air India. It has acquired a new ATR 72 aircraft – its 21st – and leased it to the Indian concern. The group has established a number of new clients, lessening its reliance on its main customer, Virgin Australia.

SnackTime, the vending machine group rescued by the Russian billionaire Boris Belotserkovsky, reported first-half revenue down 10 per cent and a wider loss of £782,000. It has recruited a new chief executive, Mark Stone, who took the reins last week. The Russian intervention has given the group much-needed breathing space but Mr Stone clearly faces a daunting task as he battles to return it to prosperity.

Shares in SnackTime were suspended for a short time last year. I wish I could say the same about environmentalist TEG. It shares were frozen in October, probably never to return, as the company has appointed administrators.

Still, Fulham Shore has already made up for the loss suffered by the portfolio as a result of the failure.

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