Bottom Line: Simon struggles

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY'S profits warning and pounds 100m of write-offs at Simon Engineering are less of a surprise than what was said about the future make-up of the business.

The board's intention to rebuild the group around its Access, Storage and Process Engineering divisions leaves little to sell to reduce the pounds 128m debt mountain.

Banks have been pretty tough on Simon in the past, and one could have expected them to push for more than the pounds 40m of disposals promised yesterday. That would still leave a large company with a weak balance sheet, and Simon's intention now must be to struggle through until the time is right for a cash call.

Shares fell 10p to 128p on the announcement, so there is a feeling that things are not improving as fast as hoped. At the half-year, the group reported an operating loss of pounds 23.4m and an overall pre-tax loss of pounds 52.6m. Since then weaker economic conditions continued to hit Simon's activities and there will be a 'small' operating loss in the full year.

Facilities and financial covenants still being negotiated are being 'tightly drawn'. Say no more. Success depends on how quickly Maurice Dixson, chief executive, can turn the core Access business around. But it is not easy to predict how the company will be performing a few years down the line.

Sell the shares down to pounds 1 - a nice balance between a possible upward trend and a difficult reality.

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