Private Investor: Calamari, omelette and perhaps some shares too...

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The Independent Online

However, it would be foolish to deny that there will not be some short-term influence on the economy. We'll no doubt see a bit less spending on the high street and a little less travel on public transport. The problem is that such minor effects come on top of what seems to be a more general slow down in the economy. The last time I checked the projected growth figure for 2005 was 1.8 per cent, rather lower than we've been used to recently. Of course, that's still much better than many of our competitors such as Germany and Japan have been experiencing, and 1.8 per cent growth would have been regarded as a cracking result when I was at school studying economics in the 1970s. Britain is still visibly booming - just think of all the building going on in your area - but for how much longer?

Generally the stock market seems to be moving in an optimistic direction, but one or two companies do seem to be suffering. No sooner had I topped up my holding in Urban Dining plc, for example, than the company announced that trading in some of its Tootsies restaurants was poorer than expected. Urban Dining is an interesting, young company. It was set up by two former PizzaExpress executives, Glen Tomlinson and John Metcalf, to acquire restaurant chains, improve them and expand them, with the aim of replacing the PizzaExpress story. Recently the firm's name was linked to Loch Fyne Restaurants, which is being sold by the Edinburgh investment house Noble.

I first bought Urban Dining shares back in October at 69p, from which point they hit an all-time low of 40p recently. Shortly before that happened, John Metcalf bought 100,000 shares at 45p and he now holds 500,000. Ah ha! I thought. He must know something I don't, so I too bought some more (not half a million, mind you). Now the shares are down to 37p or so, and Urban Dining might itself become a target for acquisition.

Yet the story still seems a good one, at least in principle, with the long-term trend towards more eating out well and truly established, despite short-run dips. People will also gradually migrate upmarket from, say, a £4 McDonald's to a £10 "gourmet" burger or pizza. So I'm not sorry - yet - that I topped up my plateful of Urban Dining shares. Indeed, I might even buy some more shares in the sector. My eye has been caught by a small cap named La Tasca, the 50-strong tapas chain which floated on Aim in February, and which has seen a 51 per cent jump in its full-year profits. Like Urban Dining it has plans to open a lot of new restaurants, but in its case the City seems more enthusiastic, with the shares running at a 25 per cent premium on the flotation price. One to chew over.

Where I've really been scoring, again, is on my Indian adventure. I've been drip feeding a few pounds a month into the JPMF Indian Investment Trust for a few years now and, with some inevitable ups and downs, thye've been gradually climbing from the 50p or so that I started to buying them to the 187p or so they stand at now, an all-time high.

A glance at the share price graph reminds me that the next move could be sharply down indeed, but so far all the hype about India seems to be justified, in these terms at least. I shall be continuing the direct debit.

s'ogrady@independent.co.uk

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