Mirror's move reflects well

It's now time to drive away from Helphire; Freeze holdings in Richmond ice cream
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The Independent Online

So that's it, then. With the £46.3m sale of Trinity Mirror's Irish titles, Sly Bailey has completed the only corporate transaction she identified in her strategy review, a review which was famously described at the time by a militant shareholder as a "damp squib".

So that's it, then. With the £46.3m sale of Trinity Mirror's Irish titles, Sly Bailey has completed the only corporate transaction she identified in her strategy review, a review which was famously described at the time by a militant shareholder as a "damp squib".

It is testament to the charms of Ms Bailey, the chief executive of the national and regional newspaper group since February, that the initial judgement has been softened in the five months since her pronouncement. The better than expected proceeds from the disposal yesterday of seven titles - including the Belfast News Letter, the world's oldest continuously published newspaper - to 3i may go another step to silencing the critics altogether. The rest of the strategy review - a modest but useful £25m cost-saving programme that will cut the workforce by 550 souls - has been welcomed in the City and beyond and Ms Bailey has persuaded her critics that she can make the numbers add up in a way that has eluded her predecessors. Even Tweedy Browne, the US investor which had been agitating for the complete disposal of the Daily Mirror and other national titles, has given her two years' grace.

She has set out an entirely plausible programme of change that involves making more use of central printing facilities across the 200-plus regional titles; making sure there is less overlap between readership of the group's titles; putting up cover prices; and pursuing other economies of scale. So much of it should have been done a long time ago.

Ms Bailey also has a clearer idea of how to stem the decline in national circulations. Mainly, this is the re-dumbing of the Mirror titles. More Beckham than bin Laden; goodbye sophisticated lifestyle supplements, hello "We Love Telly".

If more than half of it shows results, Ms Bailey and her shareholders should be rewarded with a substantial narrowing of the discount at which Trinity Mirror shares have traditionally traded when compared with their media sector peers. Coming at a time when advertising revenues appear to be picking up in advance of a general economic recovery, there appears to be a fair wind behind this company.

A pick-up in the group's fortunes is not yet in the bag, but the dividend yield of more than 4 per cent expected for next year should help you sleep. Buy.

It's now time to drive away from Helphire

Helphire acts on behalf of insurers, supplying hire cars to drivers involved in accidents that aren't their fault. The hot summer meant fewer accidents, but this business is growing so fast it hardly mattered. Turnover in the six months to September jumped by a third to £31.8m as new insurers took Helphire's service.

There was disappointment that profits haven't leapt, too. They unexpectedly dipped 28 per cent to £1.3m because Helphire is spending £15m on a big call centre in Bath and on IT and telecoms systems. The shares fell 15p to 193.5p.

Helphire says just 20 per cent of no-fault accident victims currently get a hire car service, so plenty of growth is available to justify its investment. The group signalled its confidence with a promise to aggressively grow its dividend, with a 2 per cent yield likely as a starter this year.

After a strong run - the stock has quadrupled since its nadir during a legal dispute with the insurance industry in 2000 - Helphire's big shareholders seem tempted to cash in their profits. Readers who have taken our consistent advice to hold the shares should follow suit now that the stock trades on a toppy-looking 26 times this year's forecast earnings, 15 times next year's.

Freeze holdings in Richmond ice cream

The ice cream maker Richmond Foods got an extra scoop of profits thanks to the summer heatwave, which sent consumers running to frozen food departments the land over.

It has marketing rights over Nestlé brands such as Fruit Pastilles lollies and also makes own-label products for supermarkets, including Asda Really Creamy. Profits Zoomed 28 per cent higher in the year to 28 September to a Fab £10m. Sales for the period were up 9 per cent at £127m.

The company's share of the "take home" market - the stuff you buy in the supermarket and which accounts for 80 per cent of Richmond's sales - rose to 28 per cent from 25 per cent. And it is confident that new products including Yorkie ice creams will help it grow at twice the rate of the market.

The company is under pressure from the rising costs of ingredients, with cream rising in particular. It reckons it will make some savings from buying in bulk and can pass much of the rest on to the customer. But the stellar summer of last year is unlikely to be repeated and the strength of its biggest competitor - the mighty Wall's, owned by Unilever - should never be underestimated.

Analysts are forecasting Richmond Foods will make a profit of about £11.5m this year, giving earnings of about 35.2p a share. That puts the stock on a multiple of about 12 times, a premium to the sector. Hold.

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