City Talk: Fund managers looking good

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The Independent Online
Apologies for the gloating, but our advice in Blue Chip of a few weeks ago - for investors in Schroders to hang on to their shares - was confirmed sooner than one could have hoped for. As its rival Mercury Asset Management was snapped up by American firm Merrill Lynch last week for pounds 3.1bn, shares in the investment bank to fund manager soared by 14 per cent to close the week at pounds 19.17.

It is the timing of the deal, however, which provokes food for thought. Clearly, at least one US powerhouse sees the recent dips in European and Asian, markets as just that: dips.

Either that, or it is prepared to take a truly long-term view. In any case, there seems to be value in the remaining independent asset managers - Schroder, Perpetual, and perhaps M&G - to qualify them as long-term investments. Don't worry too much about the turmoil sweeping through global markets - these companies are still in a long-term growth phase.

Back on the pitch, and there has been a growing mood of realism creeping into the valuations granted football stocks - the stock market's go-go sector at the start of the year. New research out from Salomon Brothers suggests it is the fans who are crucial to the clubs fortunes on the stock market. If that sounds slightly perverse - you would have thought it was the ability of the team to score goals - it is the fans, remember, who are the market. And in turn, that is what will be the big influence on how much revenue a club can hope to milk from television.

The report also emphasises the big danger in the sport - player's wages spiralling out of control. "We think this represents a substantial risk for the entire sector," says analyst Virginie Lannevre.

And their recommendations, based on these factors? Manchester United remains a buy - the shares have the potential to reach 685p, says Salomon. Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, however, are both deemed holds.

A small oil and gas independent is set to surface tomorrow on Ofex, the market for start-up and entrepreneurial companies. Zarara Oil & Gas has gas reserves in Mozambique, with upwards of 4 trillion cu ft. The company aims to raise pounds 5m through a private placing, which will value it at around pounds 8m. Dealings are due to start tomorrow.

On a slightly more established footing comes Sytner, which is arriving on the market via NatWest Markets. A leading retailer of prestige vehicles in the UK, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, the company had sales of pounds 160.8m in the nine months to 30 September 1997. Profits before tax over that period were pounds 5.5m. A placing of shares in December is set to value Sytner at around pounds 50m.

The perennial valuation debate around Williams - the Holdings part of its name was recently dropped - continues. The most recent concerns have centred on the impact of a strong pound on Williams' exports. From 392p a couple of weeks ago, the shares have fallen to 338p. All well and good, except that Williams' supporters consider the company is bullet-proof against a strong sterling. As much of its manufacturing is based overseas, the currency impact is limited to translation costs - rather than the more hefty transaction costs shouldered by the likes of Siebe.

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