Bunhill: Crystal ball view on conmpanies

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The Independent Online
REUTERS' decision last week to offer an astrological service to companies sounds seriously potty. I decide to put the chief crystal ball gazer, Graham Bates, to the test. What, I ask him, did he see in the heavens for a company registered on 16 May 1956, floated on 13 September 1967, and headquartered in London W1? To give him an extra clue, I told him the company had expanded fast by acquisition.

Bates, a former fund manager with Standard Chartered and Chemical Bank, comes back to me after 20 minutes studying the planetary charts. 'There's a power struggle going on,' he opines. 'There's a question over the leadership in the company. They are in the middle of some sort of internal dispute. It's a very complicated company, to be honest, er, difficult to disentangle. It's a very strong chart. There's been a change in its money-making capacity.'

Not a bad effort. For the mystery company is Ladbroke, the rumour-scarred bookies-to- Hilton hotels group, whose founding chairman, Cyril Stein, is in the process of departing.

Unfortunately, the prescient Bates declines to commit himself to a red-blooded view of the shares, which are the highest-yielding among the top 100 British companies. 'A hold,' he says cautiously.

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