City Talk: Telecom tiddler has a line to the UN

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The Independent Online
World Telecom, which sells telephone charge and calling cards to companies, has pulled off a coup with its latest deal. In a head-to- head pitch with some of the global heavyweights on the scene, the British tiddler last week signed up a deal with the United Nations Food Programme, so that overseas staff can phone home at cheaper rates. It means UN staff will be able to save up to 60 per cent on the cost of international phone calls. It also provides a free 24-hour operator service, conference calling facilities, a news service and customised billing.

The deal could pull in revenues for World Telecom of up to pounds 1m over three years, and is the first big contract the company has announced since it signed up a partnership with British Midland in June.

The business raised pounds 7m when it floated on the Alternative Investment Market in March at 150p a share, and was valued at pounds 32m. The shares closed at 173p on Friday. Interim figures are due out at the end of September.

Results at the halfway stage last Friday from Amco, an AIM-quoted construction to mining and engineering group, offered some interesting food for thought. While sales fell by pounds 4m to pounds 74.45m, largely a result of discontinued operations, pre-tax profits increased slightly to pounds 1.8m from pounds 1.7m. Earnings per share, at 8.7p, were flat. But behind this rather uninspiring facade, some positive developments can be traced. Gearing has fallen to 7 per cent, from 44 per cent a year ago. Although Dosco, its tunnelling machine business, ratcheted up a pounds 447,000 loss in the US, this is likely to prove a one- off, which means profits for the full year could hit pounds 4.2m. Dosco also has a very strong order book. If earnings per share come in at 20.5p, the business is trading on the remarkably low forward multiple of 6.8, which with a minimum dividend for the year of 7p, represents a very appealing yield of 6.25 per cent.

At Severfield-Reeve, the structural steel specialist, one of the directors sold off 15,000 shares in the business last week at a price of 476p each. The company's shares have performed particularly well this year - perhaps a case of getting out while the going's good?

The market continues to debate the outlook for BSkyB, with bulls and bears about evenly divided. But the news that the company has lost out on its contract with the cable companies to supply them with its Sky news service, which is to be replaced by the BBC's 24-hour news service, is a further dent to its former image of invincibility. Salomon Brothers reckons recent market weakness has been overdone, however, and rates the shares a buy. We shall see.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Salomon's equity gurus have been reviewing the state of the markets. On balance, they do not like what they see. In an uncanny graphic, the firm reproduces the line drawn by the markets from 1926 to 1929, and 1984 to 1987, and from 1995 to date. As one of Salomon's team states, stocks now are on a very similar trajectory. He adds that "what came later was not exactly pretty". This underlying nervousness explains the gyrations in the Dow, which continues to dance to a neurotic beat. On Friday, the Dow moved 35 points in the space of 10 minutes. It eventually closed down 72.01 points at 7,622.42, nearly 8 per cent below its record close of 8,259.31 on 6 August and a loss of 265.49 points over the week. You have been warned.

Tomorrow Oasis Healthcare should announce its third acqusition, a dentistry practice in Nuneaton. Oasis, run by former pharmaceuticals analyst Andrew Porter, has paid pounds 120,000 for the business, which will more than double Oasis revenues to roughly pounds 750,000.