Small Talk: Air Music blames broker for share price setbacks
Monday 31 October 2005
Indeed, coming after a debacle last week over a profit warning from another of Mr French's companies, Croma, it is possible that the relationship between him and Seymour Pierce may already be beyond repair.
Sources at other brokers say they are already hoping to pinch Mr French's three AIM-listed businesses from Seymour Pierce, one of the biggest players in broking for microcap companies.
Air Music & Media has suffered from the downward pressure on prices of CDs and DVDs, and the decline in physical music sales more generally. Its record labels offer collections of oldies, in the main, rather than chart music, while its Hollywood DVD business, which was put into administration, used to sell bundles of DVDs that retailers gave away with DVD players - a practice that has died out now players are so cheap. Mr French reshuffled the management in July and said last month that underlying trading remained positive, with the prospects for growth looking strong.
The City is awaiting a new set of forecasts from Seymour Pierce, and Air Music shares have halved in two months amid fears that last year's profit of £800,000 will not be repeated.
Mr French blamed poor communication with the City for Air Music's share price fall. His mood will not have been lightened by last week's shenanigans over at Croma, which makes surveillance equipment for the military.
A company statement on Thursday said that a delayed order meant it would miss forecasts for the year, but Seymour Pierce vetoed the inclusion of some positive forecasts for the coming year. After furious words between the two sides, a second, more positive-sounding update was released to the market on prompting a modest rebound in the shares. The second announcement promised a new set of forecasts from Seymour Pierce this week. It is hard see to the relationship between Mr French and his broker lasting much beyond that, unless tempers cool.
Scott Tod row hots up
The management battle at Scott Tod, the stricken cash machines business, looks set to turn nastier. David Massie, the chairman, has ordered lawyers to investigate whether the company's founders made misleading statements as to the financial health of the company when it joined AIM in 2003 through a reverse takeover.
Nicholas Tod sold the business to Mr Massie's shell company Darwen Capital, but was ousted as chief executive in August after the business collapsed into losses. Although it has 2,200 standalone cash machines, where customers must pay a fee to take out money, many are in locations where they are barely used. The company has decided to move them to better spots before installing any more, a strategy Mr Tod says he will reverse if shareholders vote to re-install him and oust Mr Massie at an extraordinary general meeting.
Mr Massie says Scott Tod's lawyers, DMH Stallard, are making inquiries into whether some of the guarantees given at the time of the acquisition "were 100 per cent accurate".
Small Talk understands the inquiries are related to a dispute with Brinks, the cash-in-transit company which used to fill up its machines. Scott Tod's previous management had been demanding £0.5m and £1m from Brinks, which it says it owes after the company terminated the contract and set up its own in-house cash-in-transit business.
Last week's Small Talk reported claims by Mr Todto have support from 50 per cent of the shareholders. Mr Massie said: "We have been around to see many of our institutional shareholders and not one expressed any sympathy for Mr Tod's plans. We have not asked them formally to pledge that they will vote against the proposals, but we asked if there was anything we were doing wrong with the business and they said no."
The company's largest institutional shareholder, Baronsmead venture capital trusts, has publicly backed Mr Massie, while the Tod family has a 27 per cent block that will vote to put Mr Tod back into the chief executive role, under Jon Pither, a serial company director, as chairman.
Mr Tod said he hoped to change Baronsmead's mind during a round of meetings with institutional shareholders this week. He was confident that all the financial information presented to Darwen at the time of the acquisition was accurate.
Antibodies maker heads for AIM
It is catalogue shopping with a bit of a difference. The catalogue contains lab-grown fragments of the human immune system, and its customers are some of the most sophisticated biologists around the globe. The company with the catalogue is Abcam, formed out of Cambridge University seven years ago and making its AIM debut this week.
The "cam" bit of the name comes from its city of origin, the "ab" refers to antibodies, the proteins produced by the human immune system to fight disease and now often grown in the lab for scientists to use in medical research. Abcam had sales of £12.1m last year, distributing antibodies to universities and pharmaceuticals companies in 60 countries, and that figure is expected to rise more than 50 per cent this year. The company was set up by Jonathan Milner, pictured, who was then a post-doctorate researcher working on breast cancer but becoming frustrated about the scarcity, the quality and the information surrounding the antibodies he was requiring. Abcam has raised £10m - and a further £5.25m for the founders - to plough into internet marketing and also into acqusitions. As well as distributing antibodies, it wants to buy some manufacturers. The shares begin trading on Thursday at 167p apiece.
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