The Week In Review: Should you sell your shares in Marks & Spencer?
Saturday 09 October 2004
Marks & Spencer is extending its returns policy to its shares. It is to spend a whopping £2.3bn buying back 29 per cent of its share capital. Marks is returning the money via a tender offer to buy shares at between 332p and 380p - the eventual strike price will depend on what volume of shares is tendered at what level. You have until 11am on 20 October to decide.
So, should you sell? It all depends on how much faith you have in Stuart Rose, the new chief executive. Considering the enormity of Marks' woes, even Mr Rose is unlikely to make a difference until well into next year. Meanwhile the consumer environment is deteriorating.
Given that this column tipped M&S in January as its retail stock of the year, if you listened then, it might be wise to tender some of your holding at a lowish level to lock in some profit.
If you are a long-term investor, however, even the tender offer looks laughable and you are probably already nursing a loss. So hang on for Mr Rose's back to basics campaign to pay off. "Your M&S" still has something going for it after all - otherwise why would Mr Green have offered 400p per share?
Better ranges will help, as will the re-focus on its core, older customer base. Sexy it ain't, but given its heritage, M&S is definitely here to stay.
An extra £1.2bn has landed in the coffers at Diageo, the global drinks giant whose brands include Guinness, Baileys, Johnnie Walker whisky, Gordon's gin and Smirnoff vodka. The group has sold two-thirds of its stake in General Mills, a US food company. Diageo's is an impressive portfolio of global brands, augmented by an array of local market leaders and some growing wine brands as well. And since it already generates more cash than it can invest in its core business, more share buy-backs are on the cards. Hold.
Efes Brewing (EBI) is the international arm of a Turkish beer monopoly, headquartered in the Netherlands, and if all goes according to plan, will have a stock market listing in London this month. Its focus is premium lager in emerging markets. It makes most of its money in Russia, where beer drinking is growing but competition is tough. Not for the faint-hearted, but worth placing an order.
BTG, formed out of the old National Enterprise Board and privatised in 1995, 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. It always has been a long-term investment, and there is no point bailing out now. The company's patent battles with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft might end with lucrative settlements. The stock could perk up.
What are Game shareholders going to get for Christmas this year? The computer games retailer makes all its profit over the festive period. Consoles should be a popular present since they have come right down in price, but the risk is that it will be the supermarket sales which turn them into a mass market product. There is also sure to be vicious price competition again on software. Game shares look cheap if you believe the company will deliver its earnings forecasts. But that's a bit like believing in Father Christmas.
Manganese Bronze, the black cab manufacturer, has failed to make a profit since 2000. The biggest driver of its losses continues to be Zingo - its fledgling mobile phone cab-hailing service, which locates its customers using Global Positioning Satellite technology. With so many Zingo customers having been left cab-less due to the small size of its fleet, it has an enormous job to win the support it needs. Sell.
Ted Baker likes to think of itself more as a "lifestyle" brand than mere clothing retailer. It is enjoying growth in all its divisions, in men's and women's clothing and across its own stores, franchises and wholesaling. In the US, Ted has proved a particular hit with the ladies. This column is a long-term Ted aficionado, but at current prices the shares are more of a hold than a buy.
The financial performance of Tottenham Hotspur, as we saw in their annual results, has been poor. Only the pre-tax profit line looked less sickly, since the previous year had been disfigured by the accounting effects of player sales, and losses reduced from £7.1m to £2.5m in the year to 30 June. It is off to a much better start this season, with the club lying fifth in the Premiership. It would be too early to start salivating over European competition but the mega-bucks that come with that sort of breakthrough would be swallowed up by increased player bonuses and wages. Which is as it should be, because football is not about making money, it is about trophies. Avoid.
In previous years, private nursing agencies have made fat margins supplying expensive temps to understaffed hospitals. Now, the NHS has organised its own in-house banks of supply nurses. The squeeze on Reed Health and its rivals will continue as the NHS hires more nurses, and spread to other areas of Reed's business, including local authority care. Avoid.
TBI, the regional airports group, owns Luton, Cardiff, Belfast and Skavsta in Sweden, where low-cost operators continued to drive growth in passenger numbers. Airlines, though, are battling with rising fuel prices and intense price competition, while increased flights at Luton will have no significant profit impact for four years because of deeply discounted landing charges and the concession fees TBI pays to local councils. Only hold
AstraZeneca shares a hold until political issues play out
A bit like the bumble bee, AstraZeneca shouldn't really have kept flying - but it has. When it was created in 1999 from an Anglo-Swedish merger, the drug giant was staring at the imminent loss of revenue from what was then the world's best selling drug, Losec, an ulcer pill with sales of £10m a day.
Well, the company kept Losec's copycat rivals tied up in the patent courts long enough to switch patients to a better version of the drug. That replacement, Nexium, is swatting away all the competitive threats to this day. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has launched blockbuster after blockbuster and now has an impressive portfolio of drugs with plenty of growth in them
There have been disappointments. Crestor, an anti-cholesterol pill, probably won't meet its target of snatching 20 per cent of the global market for this type of drug. And it is going to take years to establish the safety of Exanta, a revolutionary blood-thinning drug whose launch was blocked by a US regulatory panel.
But sleeping giants are waking. Seroquel, for manic depression and schizophrenia, is establishing itself as a powerful tool for psychiatrists. Symbicort might be a serious player in the competitive asthma market. And AstraZeneca looks like it may have one of most impressive portfolios of cancer drugs for the next decade.
Sir Tom McKillop, chief executive, set out some home truths this week: public trust in the industry is so low and healthcare costs so high that it is doomed to lose the coming battles over drug prices. In the US, the most lucrative drug market, prices will inevitably fall, so painful cost cuts will have to be made to keep operating profits growing.
AstraZeneca shares are not a buy while these political issues play out. We said "sell" a year ago at 2,630p, and several product setbacks we feared then have turned out true. Now, the risks are more evenly balanced. Hold.
The above is a selection from the daily Investment Column
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