The Week In Review: Well done Standard Life; now, it's time to take some profits

The Scottish insurer Standard Life is a totally different company to the basket case that teetered on the brink of collapse three-and-a-half years ago. Since then, chief executive Sandy Crombie has slimmed down the workforce, begun putting profit before volume and done away with the group's mutual status to ease access to capital.

Since its flotation last July, things have continued to go to plan. Changes to the pension regulations last April have been a boon to new business and profits across the whole life insurance sector – not just at Standard Life.

Members who held on to their windfall shares when the company floated should be very happy, and will be in line for another handout this summer. This, however, may be the time to take some winnings off the table.

With the effects of the pension regulation changes now fading, the next few years may well be tougher. After such a strong run in the share price, it is now hard to make the case for any further short-term upgrades in the stock.

SSP HOLDINGS

Since its flotation in October last year, SSP shares have risen a remarkable 45 per cent, yet the company has not appeared on many radar screens. That is likely to change with SSP's acquisition of rival Sirius Financial Solutions, a deal that expands the company's product line and reach. Insurance software has proved a tough environment, but SSP could yet prove that it is a lucrative sector. With a number of investment houses alerted to the company's potential on the back of the Sirius deal, this could be a good time to buy the shares.

SAVILLS

Upmarket estate agent Savills has been in rude health as ever-larger City bonuses and an influx of foreign investment have helped to drive London property prices up to become the highest in the world. At this week's AGM, management reassured shareholders that there was plenty more to come. Should the top end of the residential property market falter, however, the group's wealth management arm should still prosper. As stock markets correct, the attraction of tangible assets such as property always increases. At 15.7 times this year's forecast earnings, the stock trades well below many of its peers. Buy.

N BROWN

N Brown, the Manchester-based catalogue group that specialises in plus-sized clothing for mature women, proved this week that there's big money to be made here, posting a 21 per cent rise in annual pre-tax profits. Although its shares have had a wobble recently, these full-year figures will reassure investors. With the UK population ageing and expanding, literally and figuratively, and with no serious rivals in this space, N Brown remains a buy.

PRODESSE INVESTMENT

Prodesse, an investment trust, makes its money by borrowing from banks and using those funds to buy US mortgages through mortgage-backed securities, making a profit because it can borrow at cheaper rates than the interest paid out by the securities. What Prodesse does is by no means risk-free; the recent rises in US interest rates squeezed its margins. But with many predicting that US rates will fall, the reverse should occur. Prodesse shares offer a prospective annual yield of 6.5 per cent – highly attractive. Don't bet the house, but income seekers could do worse.

VANCO

Vanco, the "virtual" business telecoms provider, this week signed a lucrative new deal with T-Systems, the business arm of European telecoms behemoth Deutsche Telekom. T-Systems will resell Vanco's services, providing customers in 23 countries, excluding Germany, with low-cost internet connections. With £80m of contracts already banked since the start of February and the huge potential sales uplift off the T-Systems deal, the shares look good value. Buy.

PREMIER FOODS

Premier, the UK's largest independent food producer, again blamed the weather for a recent slowdown in sales this week. Even so, the statement mostly reassured investors after a period spent hard on the acquisition trail. Management has, so far at least, proved capable of handing big deals. With the integration costs and timetable from the last two acquisitions well on track, the shares deserve to trade on a multiple more in line with the likes of Northern Foods and Unilever. Buy.

HMV

HMV's share price looks like the Grand Old Duke of York – it marched all the way to the top of a hill, and it has marched back down again. The core entertainment business is probably in near-terminal decline. For major cd or dvd releases, the supermarkets are much cheaper. Then there's online, where HMV has a presence, but it's hardly Amazon. It's hard to see how HMV can turn this situation around. Sell.

The picture looks bleak, but Jessops could be worth a shot

The investment case at the photographic retailer Jessops is about as straightforward as it gets – either the company is going to collapse and the shares will become worthless, or it is going to survive and the shares will be worth a lot more. Rumours of interest from potential private equity buyers had little impact on the stock this week and there is no doubt new chairman David Adams has his work cut out to turn the company around.

It all went wrong for Jessops because of a dramatic fall in demand in the consumer digital camera market that caught the company by surprise. It retains a lead in the professional market, but that is a relatively small proportion of total sales.

The company is likely to break its financial covenants before the end of the summer, but with more than £53m owed to creditors, the banks will be very keen to see it survive. As will the likes of Canon and Nikon, who have few other high-street outlets for their top-end cameras and the gear that goes with them.

Jessops has warned on profits three times since the start of the year, but investors with plenty of appetite for risk should consider snapping a few shares up.

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

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
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

    Client Services Executive / Account Executive - SW London

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Account Executive / Client Services ...

    PA to CEO / Executive Secretary

    £36000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Executive PA to CEO & Executive Dire...

    Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

    Senior C# Developer (.NET, C#, JMS, TDD, Web API, MVC, integrat

    £45000 - £75000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior C...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis