Small Talk: United hopes float will be a magic carpet ride

Belgravium boost; Changing the guard; Matrix mystery; Top of the shops; Tips from Dresdner
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Britain's "third largest specialist carpet retailer" is planning a stock market flotation which will value the business at about £20m.

United Carpets - it is third behind Allied Carpets and Carpetright, although probably behind the carpet department at John Lewis, too - has 50 stores, mainly in its Yorkshire heartland and the Midlands. It is selling £5m of shares and promising to continue with its expansion.

The business model is based on franchises (only 11 stores are centrally run at the moment, and six of these are due to be turned over to a franchisee), making it different from Carpetright, which has a stock market valuation of £770m.

Seymour Pierce has been appointed to float United, and will have to overcome a couple of negatives in its sales pitch to fund managers. The first is the general worry about a downturn in UK carpet sales, especially if the housing market grinds to a halt. Carpetright has a trading update scheduled for 1 February that could be crucial to United's prospects. The company will argue that it will keep harvesting cash from its franchisees, making it less exposed to the ups and downs of the market, and in any case its ambitious expansion plans mean it can keep growing under its own steam.

The second negative is that the two founders, Paul Eyre (who owns 75 per cent of United) and Deborah Grayson (who owns the remainder), are planning to cash in some of their stake at the IPO, something that always gets fund managers' goat. Because the company is yet to reveal publicly how much of the £5m of shares sold will go to the founders, there is still room for discreet compromise.

Belgravium boost

Belgravium Technologies, whose handheld gadgets transmit data from the warehouse floor to the bean-counters upstairs, has won its biggest ever single order, Small Talk hears. Worth in the region of £750,000 in its first year, the deal will swell the company's cash pile, which already stands at £2m.

It is burning a hole in management's pocket and they are in talks with a couple of acquisition targets which could allow them to sell their technology to new industries, such as drug wholesaling, or the military.

Changing the guard

Watch out for news on a maiden dividend this week from Sectorguard, the nightwatchmen group based in Hertfordshire.

The security market is still very fragmented, with many outfits little more than one man and his guard dog. Sectorguard is being built up through acquisitions where it hopes to make economies of scale - it has been concentrating on the Midlands over the past year, for example - but also winning new business too, particularly from schools and universities. As well as guards and patrols, it also has alarm call-out and keyholding businesses, which are often slightly more profitable.

The latest results are out tomorrow and, although no one had been forecasting a dividend, the company is believed to have decided that the cashflows are strong enough to support a payout.

Matrix mystery

Is this helpful? Matrix Communications, the telecoms group, delighted the market on Christmas Eve with news of a global contract to provide internet filtering services to a mobile phone giant, believed to be Vodafone, but said it could not yet give financial details until 2005.

The company has its full-year results today and, Small Talk is told, will tell investors that the contract runs for "at least the next five years across a number of countries for an eight-figure sum". But is it worth £10m or £99m? £2m or £20m per year? How much, if anything, should we add to the share price this morning? No further guidance from the company, sorry.

Top of the shops

There is a whole high street's-worth of television shopping channels available on digital these days, and the newest is listing on the lightly regulated Ofex market next month.

Paul Price and Paul Lavers - known to TV shoppers from their days on QVC and Ideal World, respectively - have set up on their own with OneTV, which starts broadcasting next Monday. The group is raising £500,000 to cover start-up costs.

The station is unusual in that it will sell just one cut-price item per day, usually household goods rather than jewellery, which is often returned by customers. Graham Avery, the chairman, explains: "Our rivals can take between 40 and 85 per cent of their daily takings with the daily bargain, so it makes sense to offer your best seller for a full 24 hours."

Tips from Dresdner

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, the German-owned investment bank, has been indulging in a little Small Talk with its clients, and we thought you would like to listen in.

It has been tipping a portfolio of small company shares for 2005. They include: T Clarke, an electricals contractor ("upturn in office building is on the cards"); NSB Retail, a retail software company ("opening doors to new clients"); the electronics distributor Abacus ("managing the tough years well"); Brammer, a supplier and maintenance firm for industry ("unrivalled in Europe"); and UBC Media, the radio programme maker ("positioned itself for digital radio").