Private Investor: I've broken my golden rule and taken a flight of fancy

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The Independent Online

Don't try this at home, as they say, but last week I bought some shares without doing much in the way of homework.

I know, I know. Ideally you should immerse yourself in your company, assess its standing in the sector, look at what the analysts are saying about it (take their advice with a pinch of salt) examine the ratios and then, after a time simply watching the stock, choose your moment carefully.

There are little things you can do to enhance the stock-picking process. With many companies you can try to visit the place they trade, try their service, buy their goods, see how they perform. How many Marks & Spencer shareholders, for example, a few years ago noticed that their favourite shop wasn't quite as busy as it ought to be or carrying the right sort of stock? How many, more to the point, recognised that before the shares tanked? How many (like me) chose to ignore the signs and hold the shares anyway, hoping our experience was atypical?

What you're not supposed to do when you're investing is just read a few fragments in the papers and then jump in. Yet this is precisely what I have done in he case of QinetiQ.

I had a slight idea of what they were about; the former British defence research establishment responsible for all sorts of clever inventions, then the subject of some controversy since it was partly sold off by the Government to the Carlyle group, and now coming to the market. I also knew that the Government had set its face against a "Thatcher-style" privatisation of the sort we remember from the 1980s, with "Sid" ads and all that. Perhaps that was a bit too Tory even for Tony.

The main point of taking part in those early privatisations - especially before they made multiple applications illegal - was to simply "stag" the shares. That is, cash in on what was an almost certain chance of a profit - no matter that this may have been at the taxpayers' collective expense or that you might have had political doubts about what was being done. The point was that if they (the wicked Tories) were going to sell your assets off at a song at least you ought to be able to make something out of it, that is as well as the chaps in red braces and Porsches.

Those were they days. Are they back, albeit in a muted, lower-key form?

Thanks to financial services companies such as Hargreaves Lansdown (who sent me e-mails alerting me to the possibility of buying shares in QinetiQ) they could be. The broker organised a sort of bulk buying of the shares and was able to compete on the same basis as the traditional big institutional players as the shares were dished out.

Things are looking promising. With an issue that's perhaps 20 times oversubscribed and with the price of QinetiQ shares around 218p to 225p the early market seems set to be considerably higher than the target price range set by advisers at the outset of the privatisation process - 165p to 205p. So not a 1980s style bonanza, but respectable enough.

It's still a fairly bewildering process, however. Although I knew the amount of cash I've committed, which is fixed and paid up front to the broker, I had little idea before the end of the week about how much the shares were going to cost me, how the applications might be scaled back and what I might make out of the exercise.

I'm inclined to stick with the shares, although there again there is a certain amount of uncertainty. A business such as QinetiQ is very hard to value, even for the professionals.

However, I can't disguise the fact that I've done less research on QinetiQ than I have on many more trivial purchases through eBay. Which reminds me, I really ought to think about buying into them.

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