The Week In Review: Festivities have only just begun

Don't write off all those retail companies which put in a miserable festive performance. Matalan and Marks & Spencer paid the price for uninspiring clothing ranges with plunging sales. Yet, if M&S actually takes its failings on board - and the signs are good - its shares look a bargain. And it is unfair to judge Matalan's newish management team on buying decisions made by the last lot.

Don't write off all those retail companies which put in a miserable festive performance. Matalan and Marks & Spencer paid the price for uninspiring clothing ranges with plunging sales. Yet, if M&S actually takes its failings on board - and the signs are good - its shares look a bargain. And it is unfair to judge Matalan's newish management team on buying decisions made by the last lot.

Brown & Jackson, the Poundstretcher owner, also got it wrong, but the sell-off in B&J shares is another buying opportunity, as is the dip in GUS's share price that followed its admission that sales growth at Argos had at last slowed down. The catalogue store's cheap-but-cheerful image will prove a draw when we are watching our cash. And GUS's do-it-yourself chain, Homebase, is benefiting from the group's undeniable retail flair.

Of the specialist retailers, HMV shares stand out on valuation grounds.

Which leaves the supermarket sub-sector, arguably in the best shape of the lot. J Sainsbury may have some way to go with its recovery, but turnaround potential made it one of two retail picks in this paper's 10 stocks for the year (along with furniture store Courts).

Aviva

It's been a tough year or so for Aviva, the insurer which owns Norwich Union. Customers, seeing their savings ravaged by the stock market, have kept their money under the mattress. But the group has boosted its market share and, unlike its deadly rival Standard Life, says it has no problems passing the regulator's new solvency test. Consumers are coming back to invest. The ageing population and the shift to private pension provision do give life insurers sound long-term prospects. A solid bet.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary Group takes a holistic approach to the music industry, rather than following the traditional business model of releasing CDs and DVDs, and raking in royalties from artists' back catalogues. It also acts as manager, tour organiser and merchandising promoter. The shares should be a big hit for long-term investors.

Ebookers

The online travel agent Ebookers is not a recent start-up - it was founded in 1983, and has a high street presence as well as its internet sales. The company's brands include Flightbookers and Travelbag, and it concentrates on long and mid-haul flights and tours. It is clearly taking a share of the revival in travel now under way. But rivals such as Expedia, Travelocity and Opodo look to be building strong brands that could threaten Ebookers' position. Only for the very brave.

Blacks Leisure

Blacks Leisure, the outdoor clothing group which owns Millets, has cornered just 15 per cent of the outdoor clothing market, so there is plenty of scope for new store openings. In addition, its "boardwear" chains cater to the growing popularity of surfing, skateboarding and, particularly, snowboarding. Hold.

Bespak

Bespak, the medical devices manufacturer, makes tens of millions of Diskus inhalers for GlaxoSmithKline's giant-selling asthma drugs, but the world's number two pharmaceuticals group squished Bespak's profits last year by demanding a whopping price cut. The plan to replace the income with work for Pfizer's new inhaled insulin product, Exubera, has failed because Exubera is delayed in last-minute trials. So there have been big job cuts instead. Investors should keep their eyes open for Pfizer's filing for regulatory approval of Exubera, when Bespak shares could become interesting again.

GW Pharmaceuticals

Geoffrey Guy, the chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, says his company has a "pitch and two putts" approach to getting its drug, Sativex, on the market. Regulators may not initially approve the cannabis-based painkiller for all the neurological problems Dr Guy hopes, but he'll keep amassing the trial data and gradually extend its acceptable use. GW could soar if approval is forthcoming, of course, and it will always be a fun punt, but it is not yet one for the serious investor.

Morgan Crucible

Morgan Crucible is one of the UK market's most diverse engineering groups, making products for a variety of industries. As such it is a pretty good proxy for the global economy. A second wave of restructuring aims to restore the company's pre-downturn fortunes but buyers of the expensive shares are betting that global trade will pick up more quickly than the current consensus view suggests.

Zi Medical

The teeny tiny technology developer's market value tripled thanks to the launch this month of its first product, a device that checks hospital drips are working properly. The admission that Zi is considering a discounted fund-raising suggests the company is now overvalued, although it has a good pedigree. Speculators who have missed out should take the opportunity to climb aboard if a fund-raising is announced at a price significantly below the prevailing share price.

Luminar

It is hard to be really bullish about nightclubs as a long-term investment. This is still an industry with significant overcapacity. Relaxed licensing laws have meant there are more late-night bars competing for drinkers who used to be forced to the local club. Luminar - the UK's biggest quoted nightclub owner - is slimming down and planning a move into casinos. The stock is still cheap but the long-term challenges suggest that it is only a hold.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

    Market Risk & Control Manager

    Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

    £320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Head of Audit

    To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam