We'll pick our Internet winners after the bubble bursts

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's been an incredible year for investors. For much of the time it looked as though we were in for another routine run with blue chips setting the pace and the rest of the pack wallowing uncertainly in their wake.

It's been an incredible year for investors. For much of the time it looked as though we were in for another routine run with blue chips setting the pace and the rest of the pack wallowing uncertainly in their wake.

Then the technology bandwagon started to roll. Telecoms had for some time enjoyed premium ratings and gathered further support as the Internet stampede developed with astonishing force. Suddenly, it seemed any share with a dot.com or the most remote e-commerce association was destined to surf exhilaratingly into the stratosphere. During the past few months, many stockbrokers and market makers have been overwhelmed by stampeding private investors trying to get involved in the Web in particular and technology shares in general.

In fact, investors using execution- only stockbrokers have found themselves hanging unhappily on to their phones, listening to the inevitably monotonous music as they waited for sometimes more than 30 minutes for the curt attention of a harassed, overworked dealer.

Although the phone has remained the connection for most private investors, dealing via the Internet has of course increased dramatically. And with the US day trading vogue seemingly catching on here it will continue to do so.

I feel against such a background the no pain, no gain portfolio has not performed badly, with seven constituents sporting pluses and the inflow from Allied Domecq's pubs sale and the sale of Montana, easily countering the Regal Hotel debacle. Regal is now the subject of a takeover bid from its Far Eastern shareholders. With the company's directors unhappy about the proposed terms the hotel chain looks like continuing as a quoted company.

As the former constituent, Regal, goes under the takeover hammer, Paramount, the pubs chain which remains a valued member of the portfolio, has said its talks with a predator have ended. But it remains to be seen whether the possible bidder will decide to go hostile.

The portfolio, of course, suffers from its lack of technology shares. Only City of London, a public relations group, offers a modest Internet exposure.

Although it would have been nice to have alighted on an Internet winner, I am, at this stage, not too worried about my failure to do so. The soaraway Internet shares and the accompanying euphoria with its often unthinking private investor feeding frenzy is bound to lead to bitter and tearful recriminations when the bubble bursts.

Consequently, I believe there will be many opportunities to strengthen the portfolio's high technology involvement at some time, assuming I feel there is a need to do so.

For the time being, I am prepared to stay with the portfolio's constituents, although one or two need to be monitored closely. But it is, I think, time for another recruit. Step forward Weeks, an interesting little business which provides building and engineering consultancy services. It has not been a star performer since it arrived on AIM three years ago. The shares were placed at 5p, went to 7.25p before relapsing to 1.75p as profits slipped.

Earlier this month, the company signalled it was back on the growth path. Interim profits rose almost 60 per cent to £476,000 and hopes are running high the year's results will top £1m.

The chairman Dr Alan Weeks, who started the company 27 years ago, and the new chief executive Phillip Hill are keen to expand. Besides possible acquisitions they are growing the group from its existing centres which include a promising venture at Czeladz in Poland.

With a capitalisation of only £6.2m, Weeks is one of the stock market's many and varied tiddlers. I do not believe its lack of size is a disadvantage.

Indeed, as recent events have proved, smallness can be a positive benefit when the stock market is in rampant mood. And, of course, Weeks is small enough to be transformed overnight by a relatively modest deal. It is also a people's company - the major assets go up and down in its lifts.

In years gone by, people companies have suffered severe blows when those assets were tempted to walk out of the door to other jobs.

But the lessons of past debacles have been absorbed and people companies are now on a much sounder footing than they used to be.

I feel at 4.25p the stock market is showing that it has not fully appreciated the recovery of the little group which, besides its range of consultancies, offers a series of analytical services through its laboratories.

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here

Comments