DFS appears out of the top drawer

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The Independent Online
MUCH hoopla surrounded the decision by Graham Kirkham, chairman of furniture retailer DFS, to add pounds 60m to his personal fortune from the sale of a 17 per cent stake in the company, floated on the stock market two years ago. Less attention was focused on the merits of the business itself.

But NatWest Markets continues to believe the shares offer good value. In a note this week, it said: "Retailers like DFS are a rarity. It has an established proven successful concept (26 years of growth) and more than adequate finance to realise its potential (90 to 100 stores) and sustain at least 15 per cent per annum compound growth simply by adding five or six stores each year." On a yield of 3.1 per cent at 343p, there is little downside. Buy.

GIVEN the number of companies trying to jump on the multi-media bandwagon, investors should show caution. Omni-Media is one arriviste eager to cash in on the coming boom, but has little so far to offer investors except hope.

Like similar fledgling businesses, it has recently listed its shares on the Alternative Investment Market. This week, it produced interim figures to the end of June 1995. Losses fell to pounds 279,137 from pounds 412,354 in the previous half year to 31 December 1994; sales climbed to pounds 199,962 from pounds 124,594.

But don't write it off just because of the losses. It has two attractions - pop and children's video CDs - and proprietary software to create such products. In both cases, revenues depend on volume sales, and a massive increase is in prospect. There is a case to be made for pre-tax profits hitting pounds 1m in 1996.

That is some haul, but joint managing director Tim Rosen is confident that with a raft of new products now ready to launch, the target can be achieved. If so that leaves the shares, at 65p, on an undemanding forward multiple of around 11 times earnings. Attractive, for a gamble of this order.

WHETHER hi-tech or biotech, hope springs eternal for start-up companies. ML Laboratories is still at this stage despite a share quotation since 1987 and, more recently, inclusion in the FT-SE 250 index, on a market capitalisation of pounds 430m.

Despite these achievements, the company is still scrabbling for sales and profits. Of course, if investors thought this were to continue, the shares would be nowhere near the 312p they closed at on Friday.

The latest excitement has been the possible application of its glucose polymer compounds - originally developed for kidney dialysis - as an Aids treatment. More imminent is the prospect of an announcement of a tie-up with a large drugs concern to license a new-generation asthma inhaler the company is developing. Even so, the shares remain expensive, and should not be chased.

NEW management often heralds a turnaround. That may be so at furniture- to-fabrics concern Cornwell Parker (85p), where the arrival of James Moore as chief executive has already lifted the shares.

After an impressive stint at Glen Dimplex, where he oversaw domestic appliance businesses Morphy Richards and Belling, he could be the right choice to implement the changes needed for the business to prosper.

However, Ruth Keattch, at merchant bank Granville Davies, says the shares warrant a cautious stance, with stock levels still an issue in the fabrics division. Wait for proof of Mr Moore's impact before buying again, she recommends.

SMITHS Industries announces full-year figures on Wednesday. City forecasts range from pounds 135m to pounds 139m, up from last year's pounds 117m.

Most of the advances are expected to come in medical technology, with earnings in the aerospace division flat. But with little expected in the way of unpleasant surprises, and the shares (559p) having performed well over the past few years, now is not the time to sell.

PREMIER Oil (27.25p) is favoured by stockbroker Charles Stanley as an oil company with a bright future. After the announcement in August that the Fife field in the North Sea was coming on stream, its shares leapt to 26.5p from 22.75p. That was followed by impressive interims, with pre- tax profits a shade over pounds 10m. Expect an even better second half. But the most significant news will be an announcement by the year end that it has signed a gas contract for the Yetagun field offshore Burma. Reserves are thought to amount to 2 trillion cubic feet. If the deal goes through, it will give Premier a stable source of long-term cash flow. Buy.

SHARES in Tring International are to be avoided, given their recent collapse to 52p, less than half the 108p price tag at which the company was floated in February. Although Tring concentrates on the low-price end of compact disc and audio cassette publishing, it has failed to establish much market presence.