The Investment Column: Emap tunes in to nation's appetite for gossip, trivia and titillation

Biotech Celsis starting to redeem itself - Great Portland: The merits of refurbishment
Click to follow
The Independent Online

We are a nation that cannot seem to get enough celebrity gossip, pop trivia and titillation from our magazines. No wonder Emap, the magazines and radio group, is a company for our times.

We are a nation that cannot seem to get enough celebrity gossip, pop trivia and titillation from our magazines. No wonder Emap, the magazines and radio group, is a company for our times.

The publisher of Heat, FHM and Smash Hits! owns some of the best brands in consumer media. It owns radio stations and music TV channels. And it also has a highly successful business publishing arm, with less racy titles such as Construction News and Nursing Times.

Across the group, what Emap does, it does pretty well. Aside from ongoing difficulties in France, the rest of the group is not suffering the sort of pain that some in the media sector are feeling.

Tom Moloney, the chief executive, says the advantage of having a spread of businesses in different parts of the media sector is that the company is not as cyclical as other players. Daily Mail & General Trust also spreads its risk by operating in several media. So while single focus companies such as ITV in television or GCap Media in radio have seen a plunge in revenues in recent weeks, Emap is seeing growth everywhere but France.

In radio, while most rivals are seeing double-digit declines in advertising for the April to June quarter, Emap, which owns Kiss and Magic, is up a little.

Its consumer magazines are showing circulation and advertising growth - stars here include Closer, Zoo and its recent launch Grazia.

And in its business division (it calls it its communications division), which puts on conferences as well as publishing magazines, display advertising and sponsorship is continuing to grow strongly. Recruitment ads are down but less than feared.

What has gone wrong in France? The sales of its two TV listing titles are suffering year-on-year declines, hit by competition from new, cheaper magazines. But the situation has at least stabilised. In fact, the company remains confident about France, and it is putting £9m behind the launch of a consumer title there.

For the year to the end of March, group turnover was up 2 per cent while pre-tax profits grew 5 per cent to £205m. The company said it expected to meet current-year forecasts - a nice contrast to a number of its rivals.

Emap has great assets, its business shows resilience and the shares, at 795p, are not expensive - trading on a forward multiple of 13. Buy.

Biotech Celsis starting to redeem itself

Celsis International, floated in 1993 by the biotech entrepreneur Sir Christopher Evans, has a chequered history, but its management has done a decent job in kicking its habit of trading slip-ups. As far as the stock market is concerned, Celsis is beginning to show signs of redeeming itself.

The company's technology detects microbial contamination of drugs, food and cosmetics. Sales are rising at high double-digit percentage rates, and it has chased higher margin business in healthcare. However, it remains vulnerable to pricing pressure, given the might of its major customers, the world's biggest personal care and pharmaceuticals producers.

There is hope to push into new product areas such as disease diagnosis and, with some success already, in preventing the contamination of vaccines.

But yesterday's results read like a sales pitch for its products, suggesting a company yet to be confident of its foothold in this vast market. Much hangs on the use it chooses to make of its $17.4m cash pile, and investors ought to wait and assess any deal before deciding whether to buy.

Great Portland: The merits of refurbishment

Toby Courtauld, the chief executive of Great Portland Estates, was upbeat yesterday about the prospects for the central London property market - which is just as well, since he has slimmed down his property company to focus entirely on central London.

The trends look to be going right for him. At the current rate West End offices will be in short supply again soon, after years where vacancies have been high. There is no great boom in demand, just a return to normal levels, and a gentle squeeze ought to keep the modest recovery in rental values on track.

In these more positive times, Great Portland's focus on the "value" end of the market (it means cheaper bits of London, such as up-and-coming Noho, north of Oxford Street) ought to be where the growth in demand is concentrated.

So it all looks a sensible strategy, and the shares have responded very well to Mr Courtauld's tactics of churning the estate more actively. The focus has shifted in the past year from strategic disposals to acquisitions, but he was still able to return £101.5m to shareholders in the financial year. The balance sheet is very strong, and the decision to make a good proportion of future acquisitions through joint ventures means Great Portland is a flexible vehicle for opportunistic trading of London property.

As the inflow of institutional money into property abates, investors will prefer an active company that is investing in refurbishments to boost rental values rather than sitting back and relying on asset values to keep rising by themselves. Great Portland is that company. Hold.