Small Talk: Software group aims for a move from Z to A

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This could well be the week that sees Z Group propelled into the A-list of software companies.

In the coming days the AIM group will show that it is no longer a hanger-on as it launches its key OnShare product. This is the piece of software that shareholders have long been waiting to see hit the market and is viewed as vital to Z Group's future.

The company describes OnShare as an instant messaging system to rival MSN Messenger. It is a means of swapping files and chatting online and also allows users to see and use documents on each other's computers. All this is done over a secure connection. In January it demonstrated the product to City analysts and all who attended are believed to have come away impressed.

A trading statement is also due from Z Group early this week, probably tomorrow. It should be a bullish affair with the company assuring investors that it is on track to hit market forecasts of £1.1m in profits this year. However, Z Group is by no means a one-trick pony. At the start of the month it launch OnSpeed Mobile, software that gives users fast access to the web via their mobile phones.

ATM firms cash in

Things are certainly hotting up in the cash machines sector.

This week sees the float of Cashbox on AIM. It hopes to raise £3.5m from the process and plans to use the new money to add to its existing UK estate of 845 machines.

Meanwhile, corporate action also looks to be afoot at rivals Scott Tod and CardPoint. Earlier this month, Scott Tod revealed that it had received a takeover approach. Word has it that there are now two offers on the table, both from listed companies. Investors should not be surprised if more emerge. One involving the Tod family is certainly an option. It already controls 27.5 per cent of the company.

At CardPoint, Goldman Sachs has been slowly building up a stake and the US broker's last statement to the Stock Exchange showed that it controls 12.8 per cent of the group's shares. Gossips believe Goldman holds the stock on behalf of an American cash machine (or ATM) operator. Investors should not be surprised if CardPoint too finds itself on the receiving end of an offer.

Northern Petroleum

Just under a month ago Small Talk highlighted the value behind Northern Petroleum. Back then the stock traded at just over 70p. On Friday it closed at 141p after the explorer upgraded its Dutch gas reserves by some 300 per cent.

Northern is in the process of developing the five onshore fields and enjoys a partnership agreement with a company owned by Shell and Exxon Mobile. Once the fields are in production, Northern will get half of the profits and all of the costs back.

In the wake of the reserves upgrade, Panmure Gordon slapped a 360p price target on the stock. The broker expects solid growth from the company going forward and tipped it as a potential takeover target.

Gold miner makes debut

The Australia-based gold miner Mariana Resources will make its debut on AIM next month having raised between £3.5m and £5m as part of the float process. The explorer is focused on South America and has projects in Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.

Mariana's portfolio of assets has a particular emphasis on high grade, high value and low cost mining. Several of its properties are already at the stage where drilling can begin.

Amiad's maiden results arrive on a rising tide

Look out for maiden full year results from Amiad on Wednesday. The company's water filtering systems are used across the globe, including at Cornwall's Eden Project, and not surprisingly it is doing very well. Clean water is subject to ever-rising demand due to population growth, global warming and industrialisation while supplies are finite.

The City expects Amiad to report net income of around $3.5m for 2005, up from $2.9m in the previous year. Since floating in December at 129p, the group's shares have nearly doubled as institutional investors have moved into the stock. The industry in which Amiad operates clearly has a long-term future as water shortages are forecast to become more pronounced. Shortages have hit southern Europe in recent years and are even being felt in this country - much of the South-east will be subject to a hosepipe ban starting next month.

At the Eden Project, Amiad equipment is used to recycle rainwater for public use.