Bottom Line: Recipe for adventure

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The Independent Online
TAKE two chartered accountant / financiers and a shell company. Add pounds 40m worth of acquisitions in 18 months, with more to come. An extract from the cookbook of classic Eighties business disasters?

Robin Williams and Simon Beart, chief executive and finance director of Britton, the packaging company, follow this recipe up to a point.

Formerly at Salomon Brothers and only in their mid-30s, they have turned the former Firstland Oil and Gas into a pounds 26.8m turnover polythene film producer. Thanks to two takeovers, 1993 sales were more than 10 times the previous year's, while pre-tax losses of pounds 2.3m turned into profits of pounds 2.7m.

Further big acquisitions are planned, to be funded by future rights issues. Mr Williams wants to build divisions in other areas of packaging and turn Britton into a medium-sized company.

It is enough to cause more than the odd twitch among investors who have suffered before at the hands of supposedly entrepreneurial accountants. Britton could be different. For one thing it has a blue-chip shareholder register, including names such as Mercury Asset Management and Edinburgh Fund Managers.

It is also choosing to acquire well-run companies rather than failed businesses that need turning round - and the bigger of them on an earn-out that could leave Britton with no gearing.

Analysts' forecasts of pounds 6m profits in the current year put the shares, which closed down 3 4 p at 161 4 p, on a prospective price / earnings ratio of 20.3 - a rating for those with adventurous tastes.