Triumph of my penny dreadfuls

Derek Pain: No Pain No Gain

Three months ago I drew attention to three stock market penny dreadfuls. They had one thing in common - a seemingly perennial ability to disappoint investors.

Three months ago I drew attention to three stock market penny dreadfuls. They had one thing in common - a seemingly perennial ability to disappoint investors.

But, to my astonishment, the gruesome threesome have come up trumps. Anyone brave enough to follow my half-hearted suggestion that they should wander among the walking wounded and take an interest in the shares, has reaped a handsome reward.

The shares were Coburg, a tea and coffee merchant; Ronson, a luxury goods group; and Upton & Southern, a department store chain which had ventured into recruitment.

Coburg was 2.37p at the time of my fun tip. The shares have since been as high as 10.37p and are now 7.37p. Ronson, then 1.125p is now 2.6p after 3.825p. Upton is 7.5p; against a 2p tip price it has at times been as high as 0.5p.

As far as I am aware, the internet or anything relating to e-commerce has played only a peripheral role in this remarkable display. But, like most e-companies, our trio is short on profits and dividends.

Rumours of an internet link have swirled around Coburg but the shares have retained much of their exuberance despite the company's denials of interest in the world-wide web. Even share sales by a major shareholder have clearly failed to completely dampen the euphoria.

And Ronson has produced two statements saying it knows of no reason for any stock market excitement. To pile on the impression that investors should be underwhelmed by it all, two major shareholders, owning 29 per cent of the capital, have taken advantage of the shares' strength and sold most of their holdings.

Despite the downplaying of any internet connection, there is little doubt much of the strength of our three tiddlers is yet another example of the lopsided stock market I discussed last week.

Shells, with or without substance, have never been more popular. Adventurous investors, encouraged by the soaraway performance of almost anything with an internet association, have hunted for possible candidates for the new economy.

At one time it seemed almost any busted flush was destined for a real or rumoured internet run. Blakes Clothing, in its original incarnation, failed to produce much comfort for its shareholders.

Then a whiff of the internet, arrival of stock market stars, a new name in tune with the high-tech revolution, and it's a whole new share game. Shearing Blakes of its dowdy old clothing and dressing it as trendy E-centric sent the shares surging to 55p. A far cry from the solitary 1p they once endured.

For every success there has been a succession of misses. Yet hope still springs eternal. That hope factor is a big influence among the shares on the undercard. And it is far easier now to ramp a share.

What should investors do about our three companies? It is never wrong to take profits. Anyone who followed my penny dreadful advice should think seriously about locking in some, if not all, their gains. I would not dissuade any brave souls, providing they regard their investments as fun money and can afford to suffer a setback, from hanging on.

On the trading front, not much appears to have happened at Coburg since I mentioned the shares in November. Commodities expert Konrad Legge is still trying to pull the company round and should produce a progress report soon. Ronson, under the direction of veteran US businessman Victor Kiam, should be on the recovery trail.

Again, trading news should not be far away. If Upton manages to sell its department store side, it will become a pure recruitment operation. That activity seems to hold much more promise than retailing in the hard-pressed North-east. Upton acquired Garner International, a fledgling recruitment company, two years ago. It has made strong progress. No doubt a change of name to Garner International will help the shares.

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