The Week In Review: Care UK set to profit as NHS goes private

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The Independent Online

The increasing involvement of the private sector is the totem of new Labour's approach to the National Health Service, and that means an unremitting stream of business opportunities for Care UK.

Care UK's new clinical care joint venture opened its first treatment centre (for some reason, they are not being called hospitals) in Plymouth this month, and its second follows in Chesterfield in July.

It is under contract to provide a minimum number of operations for NHS patients, at a fixed fee for each procedure. Care UK is on course to take a 15 per cent slug of the first wave of NHS outsourcing, and its latest contract - for a new centre in north-east London - bodes well for its performance in the second wave, too.

The historic core of Care UK's business is its nursing homes, where it is the only operator also to offer local authorities a package combining residential care and home help. Long-term buy.

BSS

The plumbing and heating supplies group, with 270 branches, is enjoying a virtuous spiral of market- share gains and better bargaining power with its suppliers. The obvious question to ask is, what happens as consumers draw in their horns and start to repay the debts they have racked up over the past decade? Certainly less home improvement. But BSS is focusing its energies on supplying the Government's social-housing refurbishment programme. Undervalued.

DAIRY CREST

Dairy Crest is running furiously to stay still. You are going to see more television ads for its products - which include Cathedral City cheddar, St Ivel Gold, Clover, Yoplait and Frijj - as the group tries to lure consumers away from supermarket own brands. It also makes supermarket own-brand dairy products, but there is much less profit here. Hold.

MITIE

Mitie's 30,000 employees clean hospitals, airports, bus shelters and phone booths, provide catering for the Ministry of Defence and security for the Tower of London, refurbish superstars' changing rooms and manage the facilities at many manufacturing and retail sites across the UK. At the current share price, a new investor needs reassurance that future earnings growth can come from contract wins and from internal efficiency improvements. The prospects for the former remain strong, but the latter do not. Hold.

CELSIS INTERNATIONAL

Celsis International's technology detects microbial contamination of drugs, food and cosmetics. Sales are rising at high double-digit percentage rates, and it has chased higher margin business in healthcare. However, it remains vulnerable to pricing pressure, given the might of its major customers, the world's biggest personal care and pharmaceuticals producers. Wait.

DAILY MAIL & GENERAL TRUST

British consumers appear ready to scale their mountain of debt and to put a cramp on their spending. That is discouraging companies from advertising their wares in newspapers, on telly and over the airwaves. So, it is just as well that Daily Mail & General Trust's bow has strings other than its national newspapers. It also has a thriving regional newspaper business and operations in information and financial publishing. Hold.

BTG

BTG was has been reborn as a biotechnology company. Formed out of the old National Enterprise Board, BTG invests in new technologies, adds its commercial nous to the projects, and then licenses them out again to corporate partners in return for one-off fees and royalties. The focus on life sciences puts BTG in a very competitive area, with high development costs for new products, but it is worth staying aboard for the ride.

GREAT PORTLAND ESTATES

At the current rate West End offices will be in short supply again soon, after years where vacancies have been high. In these modestly positive times, Great Portland's focus is on the value end of the market (it is developing new office blocks in the cheaper bits of London, such as up-and-coming Noho, north of Oxford Street) where demand ought to be strong. Hold.

DE LA RUE

With the benefits of De La Rue's restructuring now well understood by the stock market, the question shifts to whether this business has much in the way of growth prospects. Its banknote printing division has just had another very good year, but you could argue that it is in terminal, gentle decline as we switch to electronic money. Hold.

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS

InterContinental has proved a good investment since its demerger from the Bass empire in 2003. It has not just been carried along by the hotel industry recovery, but has outpaced it. And it has been in the forefront of the trend towards selling hotel buildings, concentrating the business on running the operations, or on franchising its brands - which include Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza. Hold.

Buying Emap shares is an investment in the Zeitgeist

We are a nation that apparently cannot get enough celebrity gossip, pop trivia and titillation from our magazines. Emap, the magazines and radio group, is a company for our times.

The publisher of Heat, FHM and Smash Hits! owns some of the best brands in consumer media. It owns radio stations and music TV channels. And it also has a highly successful business publishing arm, with less racy titles such as Construction News and Nursing Times.

In radio, while most rivals are seeing double-digit percentage declines in advertising for the April-to-June quarter, Emap, which owns Kiss and Magic, is up a little.

Its consumer magazines are showing circulation and advertising growth - stars here include Closer, Zoo and its recent launch, Grazia.

Even in France, where sales of its two TV listing titles were hit by the competition from new, cheaper magazines, the situation has at least stabilised.

Emap has great assets, its business shows resilience, and the shares are not expensive. Buy.

The above are recommendations from the daily Investment Column.

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