Cybit turns its radar on Minorplanet merger

Small Companies Notebook

As befits an industry based on advanced tracking technology, telematics companies are keeping a close eye on the progress of Minorplanet, the debt-burdened hardware group which is touring shareholders in the hope of raising at least £6m of emergency funding. But none is glued to the radar screen as closely as Cybit, the £25m AIM-listed company which sells software and services to allow businesses to track their fleets of company vehicles.

Word is the company is plotting an audacious merger approach to its stricken sector mate, in a deal that would allow it to push its own products and services to Minorplanet's large but sadly unprofitable customer base. Minorplanet insists it has the support of its shareholders and the fundraising details will be finalised by the end of the month, but bankers said last week they expected Cybit to make a hostile approach before anything is signed.

Spark of life

Things are on an improving trend for an old dot.com era favourite, the technology investment group and "incubator" NewMedia SP*RK. Last week, the company finally repatriated £25.7m of cash that had been tied up in a German subsidiary. Now there are hopes it could be about to realise some of its investment in Pricerunner.com, the price comparison website that allows canny buyers to seek out the internet's best bargains.

Mike Whitaker, the chief executive, denies rumours that Collins Stewart has been appointed to float the business with a valuation of about £15m. But Pricerunner's future is certainly up for discussion in the next few weeks. A flotation is on the table but Spark is hoping to attract trade bidders as well, the better to properly weigh all the options.

Metal fatigue

Knees are knocking at Corin, the maker of artificial joints, where management was nervous to hear late last week of Smith & Nephew's £67m acquisition of Midland Medical Technologies, the Birmingham-based leader in metal-on-metal hip resurfacing. The deal brings S&N, one of Europe's largest orthopaedics companies, into direct competition with little Corin, whose market value is £80m to S&N's £5bn. Corin hopes the sales push S&N will give to metal-on-metal products might grow the whole market; worried analysts who called in over the weekend are not so sure. Expect a flurry of bearish investment comment.

Not at Liberty

Wander past Liberty, the illustrious department store in London's Regent Street owned by Retail Stores, and a webcam invites you to pose in return for a chance to win £300 of vouchers. If only the company were so keen to give investors a snapshot of itself.

Iain Renwick, its newish chief executive, has busied himself restoring the site to its former glory since taking the helm, while pushing ahead with launching a range of Liberty of London branded clothing and accessories. But its lack of a Christmas trading statement means the market has yet to learn the price of such progress, and whispers are the bill will be big. If the group actually gets round to reporting its interim results on Thursday as rumoured, losses could be a nasty £4m, no improvement on last year.

Glittering Award

Venture capital funds specialising in growth company investments are awash with cash and, with just a few weeks to the end of the tax year, have been casting about for investment opportunities. It is a phenomenon said to be behind the success of a fundraising by Award International - a group which produces merchandise ideas, such as freebie footballs and cuddly toys or corporate hospitality on behalf of global brands such as Pepsi and Disney.

Award said earlier this month it planned to raise £1.75m through a share placing and flotation on AIM, but it is expected to say soon that it in fact raised £2.25m, and even then the placing was three times subscribed. Award needs the cash to grow, since buying in the materials for merchandising is an expensive business and the company, which had sales last year of £3.5m, has so far been constrained by a lack of working capital.

Garden of Eden

There has been steady buying in recent weeks of shares in Eden Research, a clever little Ofex company which hopes to develop medical/agricultural products predominantly based on terpenes. These are naturally occurring, low toxicity, botanical substances often used by plants in their defensive mechanisms.

The company, formerly called XiMed, adopted its new name last October when it acquired the Michigan-based Eden, which has an antimicrobial technology used in plastic mouldings and food preservatives. Word is the company's broker, JM Finn, is planning a full research note on the company. It should be ready early next month and its circulation will help investors make a judgement on this speculative but interesting venture.

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