I'm indebted to the Prince of tipsters

Buying share information can be as speculative as betting on the horses - whatever the method
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hands up those who remember Prince Monolulu. I'm going back now to the early 1950s when, as a little lad, I would accompany my Dad and Uncles Bernard and Cyril to the races. As we parked the car it was surrounded by tipsters, sad souls who would offer to mark your racecard for the price of a pint. Half-a-dozen certainties for half-a-crown. At such a tender age it never occurred to me to wonder why, if they knew so much, they were prepared to share their secrets with my Dad for such a small reward. And why were they so scruffy?

Hands up those who remember Prince Monolulu. I'm going back now to the early 1950s when, as a little lad, I would accompany my Dad and Uncles Bernard and Cyril to the races. As we parked the car it was surrounded by tipsters, sad souls who would offer to mark your racecard for the price of a pint. Half-a-dozen certainties for half-a-crown. At such a tender age it never occurred to me to wonder why, if they knew so much, they were prepared to share their secrets with my Dad for such a small reward. And why were they so scruffy?

But then I heard of someone who knew for certain which horse was going to win. Prince Monolulu. The colour of ebony, he had an imperious presence. Six feet and several inches tall he dressed in the flash bright robes befitting a member of African royalty. His voice carried across the car parks and race-courses of Britain as he boomed: "I gotta horse ... gotta horse." Never a plural. The Prince would not offer to mark your card because he had just one winner to impart - after all, who could know which horses were going to win every race? That would be gambling.

Prince Monolulu was prepared to take the risk out of betting because owners, trainers and jockeys were his personal friends and he knew without doubt one horse that was going to win that afternoon. For only 10 shillings in old money he would share the information with you. The punters queued meekly to purchase the folded page out of a scribbler's notebook handed over with the dire warning that the only thing that could stop the horse winning was if the secret was revealed to anyone who had not paid for it. That would put a hex on the whole transaction.

Did the Prince's horses win? Were they as infallible as he would have had you believe? Was he any better as a tipster than those men in dirty raincoats who talked out of the corners of their mouths? I don't know, but I doubt it. However, I will be forever grateful to Prince Monolulu because he taught me one of life's great lessons: "It's the way you tell 'em". If the horse didn't win it was not his fault, the blame was entirely with some sneak who had given the secret away for free.

These childhood memories were dredged up as I undertook one of those biannual jobs forced upon one by the tidier members of the family. I had to consign to the bin the piles of investment magazines and subscription newsletters that grow with time. These are the journals in which, weekly or monthly, we place our faith in the expectation that, like Prince Monolulu, "they've gotta share". The learned scribes who research and write the tips are convinced their recommendations are set to soar and a 'buy' note in some of the large circulation journals can often boost a share price.

So, from a 3ft-high pile of magazines, I randomly pulled six publications and checked their selections. It so happened that the first journal is one of the most respected in the business and this was their New Year issue with their 'Tips of the Year'. They were: Bank of Scotland (January 694p, this week 672p); Granada (640p then, 621p now); Kingfisher (638p then, 421p now); Peterhouse (269p then, 407p now); Redstone Telecom (465p then, 214p now); Vislink (67p then, 60p now). Thank goodness for Peterhouse!

My next selection, again completely at random, was an April edition of the upstart weekly rival to the respected journal mentioned in the previous paragraph. It contained just three main tips. Granger Telecom, which the magazine priced in pence but which is quoted in dollars on the Easdaq exchange, was stated to be 565p. Eight months later it is the equivalent of 127p. The other 'Buy' recommendations were Artisan at 175p (now 16.35p) and Parkwood at 29.5p (now 15p).

I then picked up the May edition of a monthly subscription newsletter for which investors pay around £100 a year. It too had three main recommendations - Mayflower Corporation (then 153p, now 53p), Lavendon (then 364p, now 499p) and Linden (then 210p, now 286p).

Finally, as I heaved the last bundle into the rubbish bag, a 13-month-old copy of my favourite small company tipsheet fell out. In October 1999 it had chosen Sportsworld Media as its share of the month. The price then was 138p. This week it opened at 600p.

So what have I proved? Simply that share tipsters are about as reliable as the weather and if there is a Prince Monolulu out there I haven't met him yet. Sometimes the people who make a living from reading the runes and selling their share information get it wonderfully right but, sadly, most times they get it horribly wrong. By all means take note of their tips but be sceptical, take them with a pinch of salt and under no circumstances buy on the say-so of one source. Research, investigate, get opinions from others and only buy when you are 100 per cent certain that this is the share you simply cannot live without.

Having flagged up this warning it would be a foolhardy fellow who concluded such a column by offering a share tip of his own. However,I cannot resist a challenge so I have a thought for you, one which at first sight might appear rather strange. Iceland. The price of this retail group has been dropping this week on the news of the sudden departure of Stuart Rose, the chief executive who has accepted an offer he couldn't refuse from Arcadia. But is the news really so bad? I don't think so, particularly if the Iceland reins are taken up again by Malcolm Walker, the man who built the group into such a strong player in the food retailing world.

If you look at the record of steady growth Iceland has achieved in recent years, its price earnings ratio of less than 9 seems ludicrously low and its PEG (price earnings growth factor) of 0.2 is almost unbelievable. For the avoidance of doubt I have bought a holding in Iceland Group but please, for my peace of mind, do not accept this as a recommendation on my part. Remember, I'm the investor who tipped BT as his Share for the Millennium. Prince Monolulu I am not.

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here

Comments