No Pain, No Gain: 'My appetite was whetted by a punt in a long-departed brewery'

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The Independent Online

Why is Jennings Brothers not a constituent of the no pain, no gain portfolio? This question cropped up after my enthusiastic comments two weeks ago about the little Lakeland brewer. And there seems to be some surprise that my own investments do not correspond to the collection I have put together for readers of The Independent.

In fact there is not a great deal of difference. Eleven of the 15 companies that make up the portfolio are, as it were, in both camps. I have not invested in the recent recruits Glisten and Wyatt; the others to escape my personal portfolio are the long-standing no pain members, Scottish & Newcastle and S&U.

I suppose the gap between the two enterprises is due to my age. I have been around the stock market since the 1950s and always enjoyed investing. My first venture was a successful punt in a long-departed brewery, Massey's of Burnley. You could say the experience whetted my appetite. Consequently, I was already well invested when the portfolio was launched four years ago. It was put together quickly and on occasions I was not in a position to match the early build-up, often because I did not have the cash to spare at the time.

My failure to pick up shares in Scottish & Newcastle could be regarded as a lucky escape. After I tipped them, they frothed from 394p to nearly 700p. Since then they have slithered and slipped, for a time even slumping below 300p. Indeed, I am wondering whether Scottish still deserves a place in the portfolio.

It is showing signs of brewers' droop. A profits warning, stemming from a botched distribution reorganisation, the astonishing decision to sell (after so many denials) its pubs chain and the recent slowing of sales in Russia have, with a signalled dividend cut, eroded the reputation of Britain's only international brewer. Vague saloon bar gossip of takeover action - Carlsberg of Denmark and SABMiller are the names in the frame - is all that offers much comfort.

S&U is a splendid little company and I regret not alighting on the share register. The trouble is the shares have moved ahead strongly from my 292.5p buying price. When I had the cash they were in the stratosphere and I was fully committed when the price slipped back. I may yet get involved on a personal level.

Glisten, a confectionery group, and Wyatt, a risk-management consultancy, are still at or near my tip levels and remain attractive buys. I will probably descend on them soon.

Jennings was acquired when the shares were still unquoted in the 1970s, before the creation of the portfolio. I have never believed they were suitable for inclusion and over the past four years they have not performed particularly well, although I am reluctant to sell.

Of course, the Lakeland brewer is not the only share I hold which is not in the portfolio. Some, like Jennings, are unsuitable; others are so bedraggled I hate admitting I still own them and would not inflict them on my worst enemy. But two of my old-timers, Allied Domecq and Merrydown, were recruited.

Three portfolio shares where I am also involved have sent messages to shareholders recently. Last week, Avon Rubber reported interim results. Profits approached £4m against a £5.4m loss. Once famed for its tyres, it now makes a wide range of rubber goods, many for the motor industry. So trading is likely to remain tough.

But the basic business is not the prime reason for my involvement. I am intrigued by the prospects for its gas masks and the possibility of particularly lucrative deals in the US. Any rewards are still a couple of years out but I am sticking with the shares. Avon is now a lean, hungry group and continues to pay dividends.

And Springwood is not handing any payment to shareholders. It is moving downmarket, joining the increasing flow of companies giving up a full listing for a presence on the junior Alternative Investment Market. It is a cost-cutting exercise. Springwood's decision, after a disastrous share slump, will hit any investor whose holding is wrapped in an Isa or Pep; on the other hand, AIM offers some tax advantages.

Trading for Safeway, the subject of a protracted and inevitably strength-sapping bid battle, seems to be holding up well, but for how much longer?

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