Budgens still seeking a niche

INVESTMENT COLUMN

Poor Budgens remains a real pig in a poke. Caught between the supermarket groups on the one hand and the discount chains on the other, the group is struggling to find a role for itself.

Yesterday's figures bore the scars of the company's most recent attempt to find a new niche - the Penny Market discount formula that Budgens abandoned in February.

Profits halved in the year to April from pounds 5.4m to pounds 2.6m and operating profits fell from pounds 5.4m to pounds 4.3m due to losses at the Penny Market chain.

Since then Budgens has launched a new format, Freshsave Budgens, a chain of eight smaller stores that concentrate on lower-priced goods, particularly fresh foods. Two more will open this year. So far they have achieved good results, helping the group to an overall sales increase of 9 per cent in the nine weeks since the year-end. However, the company declines to give like-for-like figures for the core chain.

Budgens says the stricter planning regulations on superstore development will give its outlets a useful role in serving local communities. This has yet to be proven. The development of loyalty cards by the big supermarkets could reduce the importance of the secondary shopping trips on which groups such as Budgens, Iceland and Kwik Save rely.

The dividend rises 10 per cent to 1.1p and house broker Panmure Gordon is forecasting profits of pounds 6.5m for the current year. That puts the shares, unchanged yesterday at 32.5p, on a lowly forward rating of 12 times. One to avoid nonetheless.

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