Private Investor: My lacklustre private equity investment gets the Nod

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The Independent Online

Looks like I own a bit of Noddy now. In case you hadn't noticed, Noddy, Big Ears and all the other citizens of Toytown were the property of the Chorion group, which last week agreed to be bought by 3i Group, in which I hold a few shares.

Despite a fairly lacklustre performance over the past couple of years, for me they're still showing a profit on paper of 42 per cent because, as I often mention, I went on a bit of a spree when the stock market tanked a few years ago. It seemed very frightening at the time but, just like Tony Blair, my only regret is that I hadn't been bolder when I had the chance.

Never mind, Noddy is now mine, all mine.

Well, not quite. Chorion's chairman, Labour peer Waheed Alli, is leading a management buyout of the company, and 3i is backing the venture.

I was never such a big fan of Noddy, in either his politically correct or politically incorrect incarnations. I was much more fond - inappropriately, given that I was into my twenties at the time - of the Mr Men series. The rights to these too are owned by Chorion, and thus, soon they too will fall into the eager hands of 3i Group, or Mr Private Equity as perhaps they should rename themselves.

Apparently there are big plans afoot for the Mr Men, with a new TV series of their adventures in the pipeline, although sadly this time we will be deprived of the voice of the late Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army, for those who didn't know).

Well, who knows? Tastes in the entertainment field, especially the juvenile end of the market, are notoriously difficult to read, and no-one can be sure how popular Mr Happy, Mr Grumpy and Mr Tickle will be thirty years on from their original outings. It may be that some of Chorion's other characters - including Hercule Poirot, Inspector Maigret and the Famous Five - have more potential for the future. I suppose the important thing is to have a decent mix of characters, seeing as you'd be very unlucky to see all your assets go out of fashion simultaneously.

In all events, 3i reckons it will be able to squeeze more out of the various characters and I hope it does (without compromising the very qualities that made them such wonderful children's favourites in the first place). If 3i can manage to make more of what it has bought there, it will confirm that the group really has improved its performance since the new chief executive Philip Yea arrived a couple of years ago.

He has been engaged in a policy of dissolving "historic" minority shareholdings and improving returns through a series of share buy-backs, all of which has seen the shares sprint up. What has also given 3i a boost are some suggestions that the £6billion fund is about to be itself the subject of a bid. Thus the shares have risen to the £10 mark - which is quite startling for some of us who have been content to watch a more pedestrian rate of progress.

So I shall definitely be holding onto my shares in 3i, but not necessarily adding to them, given that they're trading at quite a premium to their net asset value - 25 per cent or so.

Before closing I also ought to mention that I am also going to carry on holding my shares in AG Barr, which had another solid set of results this week.

You might think soft drinks is a boring sort of business to be in, but not AG Barr, and its range of brands from Irn-Bru to Orangina, Snapple and Lipton Iced Tea has plenty of potential for this imaginative firm.

Like fellow Scots firm Stagecoach, who have done so well out of the unglamorous world of buses, and unlike Chorion, it shows that you don't always need showbiz razzmatazz to prosper.

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

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