A falling market, bubbly and a Chinese burn

Tom Stevenson looks at the winners and losers in a tough year for the I ndependent's share tippers

Buying five out of six of the shares recommended by our panel of professional fund-managers would have given investors a better return than the market as a whole during 1994.

But against the backdrop of a 9.3 per cent fall in the All Share index since January, that is pretty cold comfort. After taking account of the costs of dealing in shares, only one tip would have left punters better off than putting the money in the building society.

Making money in a falling market is a testing business, but last year's indifferent performance showed that even those paid to manage our pensions and insurance funds can get it spectacularly wrong.

Top of the form in 1994 was Bernard Clark from Lloyds Investment Managers, who gets a well deserved bottle of bubbly for recommending Regent Inns, the newly floated independent pub operator. He liked the look of 20 per cent earnings growth prospects, nicely ahead of the stock's prospective p/e ratio of 17. Those promising fundamentals paid off, with the shares closing yesterday 100p ahead of Mr Clark's tip price of 209p, a 48 per cent improvement.

In the dog-house for the year was 1993's winner, Richard Smith at Henderson Administration, whose gamble on the buoyant Chinese economy came a cropper. Property developer Cathay International was his tip because he expected the value of its hotel holdings in Shenzhen and Beijing to rise steadily over the next few years.

But following 1993's success with Wace was never going to be easy and 1994 turned out to be the year of the dog in more ways than one. Property shares and the Hong Kong market were two of its mangier species.

Cathay fell steadily throughout the year, losing 60 per cent of its value despite a return to profit and news of a promising toll-bridge investment.

The other money managers who will choose to forget last year are Philip Winston at BZWIM and David Manning at Legal & General, whose respective tips, Pilkington and Fisons, both ended the year lower than they started.

Pilkington, one of the most highly rated building shares, has struggled to shrug off recession and weak prices in Germany in both its main markets, construction and car manufacture. Its shares held up better than much of the sector, which had a dreadful year, but they still managed to register an 8 per cent fall from 179p to 164p.

Fisons, the perennial tipster's recovery story, managed to find yet another banana skin in September to wreck what was beginning to look like a pretty respectable performance.

The shares, tipped at 113p, fell from 150p to 107p in a matter of days after yet another profit warning and have only managed to recover to 110p since.

On the right side of zero, but still hardly covered in glory, were Colin McLean at Scottish Value Management and Douglas Ferrens of Scottish Amicable.

The tips from north of the border, Court Cavendish and Ladbroke, rose 4.9 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively.

The departure in January of Cyril Stein at Ladbroke sent the shares soaring from 164p to the year's high of 212p, but it was downhill all the way after that.

Court Cavendish, the nursing home operator, was hit by Care in the Community legislation, which reduced occupancy rates. Its shares recovered from a low in August of 212p, but the year's close of 236p was still little better than the tip price of 222p.

Shaken but not stirred, four of last year's tipsters have gamely agreed to try and do better this year and David Rough has stepped in to replace David Manning at Legal & General.

Mr Rough's tip for 1995 is Rank Organisation, which he thinks will be "one of the beneficiaries of a good period for the leisure sector in the second half of the year.

"It should benefit from a return of the feel-good factor as the effects of tax and interest rate rises fade away. Rank is well managed, has falling debt and is well geared to recovery. Any improvement in sentiment will fall straight through to the bottomline." He also expects Rank Xerox, the office equipment subsidiary, to deliver good cash flow. Rank's shares are currently 417.5p.

Douglas Ferrens is still a fan of Ladbroke, despite last year's flat performance, but thinks Berisford, currently suspended at 228p, will provide more excitement this time.

"Gone are the commodity trading days and problems with its British Sugar subsidiary. The operations of Berisford have changed significantly over the past two years and are now largely focused on the Magnet Kitchen division." On Berisford's recent acquisition of the US kitchen equipment maker Welbilt, he says: "Berisford has been on the lookout for an acquisition for some time to utilise substantial UK tax losses and buying Welbilt on 11 times 1995 earnings appears a sound strategic move."

Bernard Clark is hoping to repeat 1994's success with a drive down the information superhighway. His punt in cyberspace this year is Dorling Kindersley, the publisher that caught the eye of Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates, a couple of years ago.

"The key to successful share selection is to find a company with a market capitalisation low relative to the market for its products and the publisher of illustrated fun reference books, Dorling Kindersley, is well positioned for the global `edutainment'market.

"Worldwide turnover has grown fourfold over five years from the traditional printed medium but is expected to accelerate as their publications are translated into the multi-media CD-ROM format. Over ten titles are expected to be selling early next year into a market which is expected to grow from virtually nothing to many billions of dollars by the end of 1996."

He makes no pretence that the shares are cheap on earnings grounds, with profits held back by development costs. But a target capitalisation of three times turnover would double the share price from its current 321p.

Colin McLean is taking the contrarian route of tipping "a neglected share of a good business in an unpopular sector. Govett & Co, the investment management group with US and UK interests, fits this category. It is little researched, yet is a major business that could finally achieve proper recognition in the coming year.

"Corporate activity in the fund management sector has picked up, triggering some very good share price performances. However, Govett, 356p, has been left behind and its £250m market capitalisation undervalues its excellent growth record, strong balance sheet and substantial revenue base."

Philip Winston, at BZWIM, thinks the market will increasingly focus on growth as the economic cycle matures.

"My stock of the year is Celltech, which, as a biotechnology company, is at the sharp end of innovation. It has a broad range of products in development; it has alliances with several of the largest pharmaceutical companies who help fund the expensive late stage drug trials; and it derives cash from the manufacture of monoclonal antibodies." Celltech ended the year at 236p.

Funds our tipsters manage may own or deal in the shares mentioned.

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