City File: Allied looks tastier with potent cocktail

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The Independent Online
ALLIED-LYONS' expected sale of Calvet, its Bordeaux wine merchants, will complete streamlining efforts that have already seen the disposal of super-plonk Chateau Latour and the Grants of St James's wine wholesaling business.

The refocusing, which includes the acquisition of the Augustus Barnett off-licences from Bass, may be belated but its leaves Allied, long the laggard among the big drinks groups, with a promising portfolio, including some excellent liquor brands (Ballantine's, Beefeater), Carlsberg-Tetley, and Baskin-Robbins - a far bigger purveyor of upmarket ice cream than Haagen Daas.

Allied has already done most of the analysts' work by forecasting a modest advance in real terms. The shares, up by 24p this week to 574p, could go even better with the results, and the realisation that forecasts of a loss of up to pounds 20m on Chateau Latour were wrong.

THE SEASON for hard-to-attend shareholders' meetings has started early. Though not quite up to Christmas Eve on the Isle of Man standard, the decision by Maddox Group to hold its extraordinary meeting on Saturday, 4 December at the offices of Williams de Broe in the City takes some beating.

After all, this is a meeting to approve a rescue seven-for- eight rights issue at 1p and change the group's name to Wakebourne. Shareholders who do attend will, however, be able to skate on the Broadgate rink for free.

SHARES in Smiths Industries, the aerospace and medical systems group, have been remarkably strong, rising 80p to 435p since the company's recent modest profits increase to pounds 104m for the year to July.

The medical division is the current star: its trading profits rose 40 per cent last year, and it should help group profits up to pounds 115m this year and pounds 130m next.

Richard Marshall at chartists Investment Research reckons the shares have broken decisively out of a seven-year trading range and are on track for 475p by next April and 550p long-term. It may be worth hopping aboard the bandwagon.

BRITISH Polythene Industries, maker of Sainsbury's plastic bags among others, has underperformed since it took the wind out of the more unrealistic forecasts in September with a profits increase of less than pounds 100,000 to pounds 6.6m. The shares languish near their 1993 low of 417p, more than 100p off their summer peak.

But Andy Bowers at Panmure Gordon stands by a prediction of pounds 14.5m for the year, up pounds 2.4m, which would put the shares on an earnings multiple of 15.5. A fair bet on economic recovery, which will mean more goods to bag.

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THE SWORD of Damocles is hanging over Emap in the form of possible VAT on newspapers and books. However, it now seems that magazines, which make up the lion's share of Emap's portfolio, may be spared the tax.

Meanwhile, Emap continues to launch comsumer magazines successfully - it brought out five new titles in the first half of the year. It will say tomorrow that one, Carweek, has been a roaring success and the other four have been sound.

The City is expecting around pounds 17m of pre-tax profits for the first half en route to about pounds 48m for the year. Worth a bet on better VAT news than has been feared.

POOLS operator Zetters has been depressed by the mouth- watering prospects surrounding the national lottery. But, assuming football pools will continue to exert their old magic for a while yet, Zetters shares look oversold at 115p.

That price gives the company a market capitalisation of pounds 7.5m, but it is sitting on pounds 3m cash and is looking to sell a couple of modest London properties. That leaves the underlying business valued at little more than pounds 4m, yet it could make pounds 1m profits in the year to March and the shares yield a comforting 9 per cent.

HAVING proved one set of doubters wrong by making a profit from the (apparently overpriced) acquisition of Virgin Records, Thorn-EMI then hit more turbulence: stories about ruthlessness in the management of its crucial American rental business sent the shares down by 66p to 922p; worries about the status of artists' contracts as a result of the Sony- George Michael case come on top of allegations about over- priced CDs.

Sir Colin Southgate has bounced back before and, for the first time since 1985, the shares have fallen behind the general market trend. Stick with them even if week's results are not sparkling.

BILL CLINTON probably has few friends at Tate & Lyle. The Nafta agreement will do little good for the company, which is being squeezed by high corn prices and a weakness in sugar.

Still, currency movements will help Tate & Lyle to announce on Wednesday a 15 per cent hike in profits to around pounds 220m for the year to September. A good result will help sentiment, but the shares remain a play on commodity prices.