Bottom Line: Berisford needs a real business on board

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The Independent Online
BERISFORD appears to have got over its failure to capture C&J Clark quickly. Its shares stayed steady yesterday at 128p after coming out of suspension as it disclosed that it had turned a pounds 57.4m loss into a pounds 400,000 profit.

The profit was, however, entirely due to gains on disposals; at the operating level, the businesses lost pounds 1.5m. But the admission by Alan Bowkett, the chief executive, during the bid that he would be prepared to sell the remaining operating subsidiaries to invest the proceeds in the shoe maker demonstrates how much of a sideshow these businesses have become. The failure of the bid simply underlined how crucial it is for Berisford to get its hands on a substantial manufacturing business it can use as a base for expansion to achieve Mr Bowkett's ambition of creating a FTSE-100 stock within 10 years.

Otherwise, Denis Mulhall, the specialist in integrating acquisitions whom Mr Bowkett lured from Tomkins during the Clark bid, will be left without much opportunity to use his talents.

Mr Bowkett has done well to clean up the mess left by the disastrous venture into New York property in the 1980s. He also has an impressive record of producing results at moribund manufacturers such as Boulton & Paul and RHP, the ball-bearings maker.

Berisford is not allowing the Clark failure to diminish its ambitions, and it says it has another four potential targets lined up. The group generated pounds 18m in cash - mostly from asset disposals - in the six months under review, leaving it debt-free and with pounds 3m in the bank.

The question is whether a would-be conglomerate in search of an acquisition makes for a wise investment. Until Berisford has a real business on board - or one more firmly in its sights - the answer must be no.