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; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

    £45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project