I have made no secret of my anxiety over Goals Soccer Centres. It's a splendid company operating in a lucrative growth market but its shares are on such a dizzy rating that it would take the merest trading hiccup to encourage some investors to start brandishing red cards.
Well, Goals, running five-a-side football centres, did not stumble when it presented its interim figures even though they were probably just a shade below best expectations. The shares advanced – not spectacularly but enough to underline that the normally unforgiving stock market still approves of the group's strategy. Even a yellow card was clearly unnecessary.
Still, with the shares selling at around 37 times this year's earnings it is quite clear that expectations are exceptionally demanding. Although such a fancy rating makes me nervous, I am sticking with Goals although careful monitoring is required. In early June, just before I went on holiday, I slapped a 300p sale price on the shares. I would be astonished if I had to invoke that selling order but I feel it wise to keep it in place.
At the halfway mark Goals scored a 47 per cent profits gain to £3.1m with sales up from £7.5m to £9.7m. The shares, as I write, are riding at around 410p against the 125.5p the No Pain, No Gain portfolio forked out two years ago.
It opened two new centres in its half year, lifting its chain to 23. Another two are due to open in the second half-year. By any standard four new outlets in a year is pretty good going. And five are expected next year. But maybe a few more centres – opened and planned – would have underlined the go-go image. Indeed the company talks of increasing its level of openings.
Five-a-side football (or the small-sided game as Goals likes to call it) is now, it seems, more popular in England than traditional 11-team matches. It does appear that Goals and its major rival, PowerLeague, are playing in a rewarding game. I have on a number of occasions wondered whether to switch into PowerLeague but until there is a compelling case for such a manoeuvre I will continue to support Goals.
It is sharply increasing its interim dividend. Another portfolio constituent, Hargreaves Services, is also handsomely rewarding shareholders with bigger dividend cheques. The two, however, are as different as chalk and cheese.
For Hargreaves embraces a range of industrial activities, including transport, importing and distributing coal, waste disposal and even coal mining and coke production. In the year ending May the acquisitive group achieved profits of £8.63m, a 58 per cent advance.
Another sharp improvement is expected. Growth should come from its more established operations and from the four significant take overs it put through last year. More deals are likely. The shares, now around 635p, have had a splendid run since the portfolio recruited them at 417p last year.
They now look quite expensive, particularly for an industrial group. But there is still some distance to go before the heady rating achieved by Goals is reached. The portfolio is happy to stay on board.
Rentokil Initial, the delivery to pest control group, suffered a further pre-tax profit decline – from £89.4m to £65.3m. Even so, there is little doubt that the long-awaited recovery is under way. Indeed Doug Flynn, the chief executive who has struggled to end the group's dismal run, is able to draw attention to the first increase in operating profits for four years. In the first three months they rose 4 per cent followed by an impressive 11.1 per cent gain in the second quarter. And the interim dividend is being maintained.
Although unloading some operations Rentokil, back in the Footsie index, remains an acquisitive animal. It put through no less than 50 deals – some quite small – costing £96m in the half year. Further progress should occur in the second half but the recovery is unlikely to make much impact until next year. The shares have been a portfolio constituent for three years.
Timing is crucial when investing and I obviously arrived at Rentokil far too early. Still, the portfolio is marginally in the money – the shares are 171 p against the 143p paid – and there is a growing chance the long wait could turn out to be rather rewarding.Reuse content