City Talk: Rusty metals are ready to shine again

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The Independent Online
It's been a meltdown year so far for shares in mining or metals trading companies. One reason is the ongoing fallout from the Sumitomo copper scandal and the subsequent collapse in the price of copper. Another is the turmoil on Wall Street, and the consequently skittish behaviour of the US dollar. As a result, only seven of the world's 52 largest mining and smelting companies actually saw their share prices rise in the last three months in dollar terms. However, the rot is about to stop, according to the strategists at Paribas. They believe metal prices will recover in the second half of the year, and are rating Lonrho (168p) a strong buy and upgrading RTZ (419p) to a hold as a result. They remain bullish on Lonrho, arguing that its true value is closer to 235p a share. They are maintaining this stance despite Tiny Rowland telling them by satellite phone how wrong they are.

THE shares of RJB Mining, the owners of what was once British Coal, have led a charmed existence. They dipped below 500p last month after the company launched a pounds 95m share buyback, netting chairman Richard Budge pounds 1.2m, but have since bounced back to 513p. The announcement that the company wants to sell or close Point of Ayr, the last deep coal mine in North Wales, points to the grim outlook RJB will face when the lucrative supply contracts with the electricity generators run out in 1998. The bounce looks like the dead cat variety. Sell.

BENSONS Crisps (31p) have survived two years of losses to emerge into profitability on the back of Beano and Dandy-branded snacks. Last week's results saw Bensons make profits of pounds 555,000 in the first half of the year, compared to losses of pounds 955,000 for the previous period. Falling potato prices and the growth of branded snacks should help the company remain profitable for the year. Buy.

PROBLEMS with Polly Pocket and the death of Mighty Max put the skids under Bluebird Toys' results this week and made a mess of the share price, down 18 per cent on the week to 173p. But never fear: Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys will come to the company's rescue, along with Disney's Tiny Collection, according to brokers Beeson Gregory. Peter Pan may also grow up, they believe, and they recommend holding on for better times ahead.

WHAT has gone wrong at Orange? Shares in the mobile phone provider had a perfect debut on the stock exchange in March, but have gone sour, standing at 177p, 14 per cent off its 205p issue price, and down on its high of 253p. An undistinguished set of new subscriber figures, plus uncertainties about the market, have caused the slide. But the fundamentals remain good: a stable subscriber base, the best brand name, and a talent for innovation that has escaped its competitors. Its interim results on 20 August should put the shares back on the road to a brighter future.

SEEKING further proof to the theory that there is one born every minute, Skynet has shifted itself from Ofex, and will be offering shares at 250p each to AIM investors. The company says it wants to raise money to fund the launch of its satellite-tracking security device for cars. But the frenzy of trading during its last days on Ofex suggests the AIM float may do more to line the pockets of Skynet's backers. Avoid.

RENTOKIL'S shares perked up last week to 419p, as they always seem to do before their interim results (due out on 22 August). In the past, the results announcements have caused the shares to sink back into obscurity. But this time may be different. Having swallowed BET, Clive Thompson's management team have a large underperforming asset on which to work Rentokil's trademark margin magic. Their track record suggests the BET businesses could double their profit margins under their new owners, making the pounds 2bn purchase price look more like a bargain for Rentokil shareholders. The share price, which has doubled in two years, could well repeat its performance. Buy.