Small Talk: Investors seek hard facts about Easier's cash

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The Independent Online

There is growing shareholder concern that Easier, the cash shell which was delisted from AIM in June of last year, may have vanished along with its sole asset: £5.4m in cash.

There is growing shareholder concern that Easier, the cash shell which was delisted from AIM in June of last year, may have vanished along with its sole asset: £5.4m in cash. This column first highlighted the case of Easier at the start of last month, when shareholders contacted us to express their disquiet at the fact that the company had still not returned to the stock market.

Easier shares were suspended on 30 June 2004, one day before the company would have anyway been automatically suspended because it had failed to file accounts, at the request of its management who said they were about to make an acquisition.

Shareholders have heard nothing since from Easier other than news of the resignation of its nominated adviser, Beaumont Cornish, and its auditor, Deloitte. Of particular worry to investors has been the reason Deloitte gave for its resignation - that the company had failed to provide sufficient evidence to show the whereabouts of its £5.4m cash pile.

A spokesperson for Easier has assured Small Talk that the money is safe and sound and that it has been well invested. According to the company, £3.4m of the total has been invested in quoted US equities. Easier also says that it will soon re-list on AIM, having completed a substantial acquisition.

However, shareholders are sick of such assurances and are eager for hard facts. They want to know when the company's accounts for 2003 and 2004 will be published (which should reveal details of the company's cash pile) and, since Easier is to return to the market via an acquisition, they want to know who the group's lawyers, brokers, nominated adviser and bankers are. All these are standard questions that any company wishing to be return to AIM should be able to answer straight away.

Small Talk approached Easier, chaired by 76-year-old David Gough - who also runs the offshore investment firm Fulton Partners, which is Easier's largest shareholder - in search of answers to these questions. However, he and the group failed to come back with any new details. A spokesman for Easier repeated the same line as that offered by the company back at the start of February.

There were no fresh details on the company's £3.4m of US investments. Shareholders still do not know in which equities Easier's management has invested their money, nor who the custodians of those equities are.

So the mystery surrounding Easier grows, and with it so does the concern of its shareholders - a few of whom are becoming increasingly militant, threatening to take their case to the authorities if the company's management does not soon take action and respond to their requests.

Gasol arrives in time

Brokers predict that a record number of cash shells will list on AIM over the next two and a bit weeks. Why the rush? Well, on 1 April market authorities will introduce rule changes that ban cash shells which are unable to raise more than £3m, and that compel them to make an acquisition within 12 months of listing.

Among those that have made it on to AIM before the deadline is Gasol. The group is a spin-off from Blue Star Capital, the vehicle of the cash shell supremo Nigel Robertson, and will have its maiden session of trading on Wednesday, having raised £1.4m. Like so many these days, Gasol will focus on the oil and gas sector. One thing that sets the company apart from your average shell is the presence of Artemis Investment Management as major shareholder. The fund manager will have a 22.7 per cent stake, while Blue Star will hold 34 per cent.

Black Sea float

Also debuting on AIM this week is Black Sea Property. Trading in its shares is expected to kick off today and, unlike many on the junior market, the company has a very clear strategy for making money. It plans to invest in early-stage property developments on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, convinced that prices in the region can only soar in the coming years as the former Soviet Bloc country prepares for European Union membership in 2007.

Property prices on Bulgaria's coast remain cheap by Western standards, while the country is in the midst of a tourism boom that is forecast to continue for some time. Collins Stewart is handling the float for Black Sea Property, which is setting out to raise up to £50m.

The Israeli mobile telecoms group Telit Communications will today announce plans to float on AIM. The group hopes to be listed on the junior exchange on 4 April, having raised £20m on the way from various institutional investors.

Led by Oozi Cats, the chief executive (pictured, left), and chaired by Yitzhak Apeloig (right), Telit has two prime operating businesses. The first of these designs and makes machine-to-machine communications devices which provide real time monitoring and control capabilities for those companies which operate vending machines, utility meters and car fleets. The other more simply upgrades cheap mobile phones made in the Far East to European standards and re-sells them under the Telit brand.

The company believes that mobile network operators want to reduce their dependence on the world's six major handset makers, and is determined to profit from this trend.