Private Investor: While Diageo's in high spirits, get a round in
Saturday 01 September 2007
On my travels around the world, I never cease to be amazed at how popular Scotch whisky is. This is especially striking when you consider how much it's gone out of fashion in this, its home market.
I think it's got a lot to do with the "Mike Baldwin" image that the drink has as an "old man's tipple" or at least one that's dated. I still seem to recall scenes from The Sweeney where they'd get a bottle of Scotch out of the filing cabinet when things started to get particularly difficult.
Anyway, they don't think of Scotch in that way in its rapidly growing emerging markets. I've personally seen how enthusiastic the Chinese and the Brazilians, to name two disparate peoples with a growing taste for the stuff, are about their single malts. They're following the Americans and the Japanese, and Scotch is probably having more success now than at any time in its history.
Part of which is why I think it's a good time to buy into Diageo, which has just reported another stonking performance – £2bn in profit from the likes of Johnny Walker, Smirnoff and the rest.
I've been in and out of Diageo shares over the years and I've always felt that I should have stayed in and never bothered trying to take a profit. However, such a habit has helped remedy one of those great psychological problems small investors have – that after they've sold a share for, say, £1, having doubled their money, when it goes to £1.75 or £3, then you somehow think it's "expensive". It need not be, if the company's prospects are rosy.
In that case the share price can, in reality, be cheap, but there's something going on in one's head holding back another purchase, which might even yield more profit than the first exercise.
Well, I've been cured of that now and I'm happy to buy some more shares in Diageo on the back of their encouraging results. I'm not especially bothered by the fact that they're losing market share on Guinness in Ireland and the UK, its traditional home markets.
As we are all becoming lager-drinking homogenised Europeans (with a few pints of Magners on top, in the case of the Irish), the only wonder is why it has taken the black stuff so long to lose ground. Besides, I see the Nigerians are taking up the slack – they started brewing Guinness locally under licence as long ago as 1963. This shows how globalisation and homogenisation can work in Diageo's favour.
Last week I added to my holdings at £10.37 a share, quite a multiple on what I paid for the stock when I first took an interest in it about a decade ago. It is a well-run company with excellent brands and shows every sign of knowing what it's about in the lucrative markets now opening up, such as India and Mexico, as well as the aforementioned China and Brazil.
I've also taken my own advice and added some more to my stock of Capita shares, although I can't claim that I've been able to take any advantage of market weakness to do so.
As I mentioned not so long ago, this is a share that just seems to keep going up in good and bad times; had you joined the party only a couple of years ago, you'd have seen phenomenal growth, and my only regret is not having had the courage of my convictions about Capita and invested more in it earlier.
Given that it runs so many PFI projects, including the hateful London congestion charging scheme, it isn't often liked by taxpayers, public services-users or motorists. It isn't my favourite company either. But if you want a sort of "emotional hedge" that can help you cope with your anger at having to pay a fine of £50 just because you forgot to pay the congestion charge immediately, I can think of no better idea than to buy the shares, at 751p.
Talking of courage, and looking about the market now, I wonder what the truth is about Barclays. It seems hard to credit that such a major institution could be in trouble, and I've no reason for saying it is. But it has been borrowing lots of money from the Bank of England, albeit very short term and for "technical reasons"; to do with the clearing system.
It also has this character who may have gone missing called "Captain Sensible", who was in charge of their sub-prime exposure. It's all conspired to push the share price down, and it ought to be a great buying opportunity. I just don't feel that brave.
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