The Week In Review: The saying is 'Give us Liberty and they will give us wealth'

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The Independent Online

Liberty International provides "a pleasurable social experience, core to modern lifestyles". Yet you will not find its shares listed in the leisure sector. Rather, it owns nine giant shopping centres around the country, including Lakeside in Essex and, the UK's largest, Gateshead's MetroCentre.

You may disagree that they are a great day out, but they are a great investment. Liberty's centres recorded 175 million customer visits last year, and most of the major retailers pay up to get prime locations. Rental yields of 6 per cent compare favourably with equities, bonds and anything you can get at the bank. Interest rate rises and equity market recovery notwithstanding, property continues to attract institutional investors who keep prices high.

In all, the shopping centres have risen in value to £3.8bn, Liberty said this week. Its rag-bag of other office and retail property in the UK and the US takes the total up to £4.6bn. Valuation uplifts from redevelopment and expansion at Gateshead this year and the Norwich centre in 2005 should keep Liberty growing.

We said the shares were attractive at 532p last year, and with a dividend yield of just under 4 per cent likely this year, that remains the case.


Sygen International is the stock market descendant of the old Dalgety food conglomerate. It is a pig-breeder, but has become a more exciting business in recent years as innovative genetic screening techniques have allowed it to produce fatter, fitter and more fecund sows, for which it can charge more. Better still, Sygen has identified more than 2,000 genetic markers to improve other species including shrimp, chickens and cows. Worth a punt.


Trafficmaster's main product is Smartnav, an in-car satellite navigation system without a screen, and it has done a deal with MG Rover to establish its kit as a "factory-fit option" in the Rover 75 range. That means buyers will be able to specify Smartnav when they order their car and the unit will be fitted on the production line for £500 extra. With momentum gathering for the business, and for the whole tech sector, it is worth holding of Trafficmaster shares.


Many of the sceptics have been beaten into admissions of defeat by the relentless rise of Galen's share price, and, to be fair, by the dramatic improvement in profits at the Northern Irish maker of hormone replacement therapies and contraceptive pills. Galen buys products too small to be given attention by large drug groups, but it is yet to consistently show that its salesforce can turn around the fortunes of all these products. Long-term investors remain safer out.


Aquarius Platinum has its headquarters in Australia and its three mines in South Africa and Zimbabwe; it sells its platinum and palladium in US dollars and lists its shares in London. Production growth is secure, and platinum, thanks to demand from catalytic converters used to cut vehicle emissions, should stay high for a couple more years. Buy.


PZ Cussons is the company behind such iconic brands as Imperial Leather, and it also dominates market stalls in villages across Africa and Asia with products such as Joy soap and Venus hair-cream. The downside to having such a dominant emerging-markets position is that many local currencies are pegged to the US dollar, which has resumed its freefall. The shares look overvalued and investors should take profits.


Royalblue is one of the most impressive in the software sector. Over the past decade, it has built a complex trading system for sale to investment banks and other institutions which trade financial instruments, allowing them to automate much of the process. In the City of London, its Fidessa platform is widely used, and the company has gained a good toehold on Wall Street, too. Trouble is, the shares are looking significantly overvalued.



Country & Metropolitan is one of the builders that has repositioned itself at the affordable end of the market. This is not philanthropy. "Affordable housing" is snapped up, and the higher end of the market is much more vulnerable to the economic and interest rate cycle. And getting planning permission for affordable schemes is much easier. The company's shares have performed brilliantly over the past 12 months, but still only trade at the sector average. A solid hold.


The Toad chain of High-street bars owned by Eldridge Pope, stands zero chance of ever turning into a prince, no matter who kisses it. The former brewer rebuffed a series of takeover bids last year, parted company with both its chief executive and chairman, and has continued to find trading tough. Given that the group lacks the safety net of a decent property portfolio, it should be avoided.


This Chilean trading company has been listed in London since 1888, but it has been reshaped in recent years as a pure copper- miner. This year may be the peak year for copper prices, but there are no signs of a crash. On top of the global economic recovery there is new demand flooding in from China. Antofagasta plans to increase production at the biggest of its three Chilean mines by 40 per cent by 2007, which should take up the slack as selling prices dip. Hold.


Bluetooth microchips such as those produced by Cambridge Silicon Radio enable gadgets to talk to each other without wires. CSR's technology is in mobile phones, wireless headsets and laptops and its upcoming flotation is a test of investor sentiment to the technology sector. The valuation is asking a lot and with so many founder shareholders wanting to sell out, the private punter should stay out in the short term.

Will dog of a drugs giant be a darling?

The world's No 2 pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline has been a dog of an investment since the merger that created it in 2000. It has been slow to develop a pipeline of new drugs to replace a trio of blockbusters which have lost patent protection.

Augmentin, the antibiotic, and the anti-depressant Paxil, both face cheap copycat competition in the United States, the most lucrative pharmaceuticals market, and Wellbutrin faces a similar fate in months.

There is going to be a messy gap in the company's growth, as a result of which GSK shares trade at a valuation about a third below those of its peers.

By the end of this year, GSK will be growing again. It should not take the stock market until then to wake up to the turnaround, and the company should also have a steady feed of news on the progress of its pipeline of new drugs which will rekindle interest.

This pipeline looks one of the fattest in the industry. The drugs will not be on the market until late in the decade, but analysts will soon plug first guesses on potential sales into their forecasts. Long-term winners could include another blockbuster asthma treatment being hailed as "better than Advair", now GSK's best seller.

GSK says that 2004 is a transition year for its mix of products, and it should also mark the company's transition from dog to darling. Investors get a 3.7 dividend yield for their patience, and should buy.

The above are a selection of recommendations from the daily Investment Column

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