Easier ride for Euro Disney

Euro Disney is now clearly on the up slope of the big dipper ride it has been on since it opened in 1992.

The theme park operator has already achieved the remarkable feat of having recorded its only profits before a single customer crossed its threshold. But half-time figures yesterday suggest that the red ink may soon be a thing of the past.

The net deficit was slashed from Fr1.06bn (£134m) to Fr241m (£30.8m) in the six months to March, and the crucial turnover figure, wounded by Euro Disney's near-collapse last year, is now showing signs of life.

That reflects a much healthier underlying trading picture than has been evident for some time.

Admissions are recovering strongly, after slumping by a million to 8.8 million in the year to last September. Euro Disney said visitor numbers were 3 per cent ahead of the comparable 1993/4 period in the first, pre-Christmas, quarter of the current financial year, accelerating to 11 per cent growth in the second.

The revival has come even before the price cuts that reduced admission charges by up to 22 per cent from 1 April, and bodes well for the important summer season. Euro Disney earns around a third of its revenues between July and September.

But, despite all the good news, the group remains a long way from justifying even its much-reduced share price, which climbed a further 17p to 188p yesterday. The latest figures were flattered by last summer's Saudi-backed Fr13bn refinancing and Fr6bn rights at Fr10 (116p), which temporarily relieved Euro Disney of most of its lease rental commitments, along with the management fees and royalties payable to Walt Disney in the US. That cut out Fr118m in fees and royalties paid last time and reduced the leasing bill by Fr600m.

Both those charges will kick in again fully from 1998, and before then, Euro Disney must contend with the strength of the French franc, which may not be putting off the Germans, with their even stronger currency, but is clearly deterring other Europeans. Even so, sales could rise to Fr5bn this year, bringing break-even within reach.

Nigel Reed at brokers Paribas believes it will take another Fr3bn of turnover to realise the earnings of Fr1 per share that would make the current share price sustainable. That would require more than 13 million visitors to pass through Euro Disney's turnstiles and could take until well into the next century, on present trends.

These shares are only for the brave.

New-look

Bullers

Bullers has gone through a transformation since it was boarded by David Cunningham, former chairman of Waterglade International, 18 months ago.

The new chairman, who now owns 15 per cent of the shares, has redirected Bullers towards media services since paying £1.9m for Wiseman, a film post-production company, in February 1992.

Seven months' profits from Wiseman provided the lion's share of the improvement in the group's results for the year to December, announced yesterday.

Those showed losses cut to £394,000 from £1.23m in the previous six months (reflecting a changed year-end). Despite extensive surgery, losses continued in the original businesses, which produce enamelled boxes, pewter figures, bronzes and fireplace surrounds.

Orders in all areas are ahead of last year and Mr Cunningham is confident they will all be in profit this year. That could push Bullers into the black to the tune of £1.6m and the new chairman is lining up acquisitions.

Bilston & Battersea Enamels, a rival enamel box maker, is not interested in talking at the moment, but an announcement about the acquisition of a 3-D imaging business and a multimedia company could be less than six weeks away.

Followers of former financier Jim Slater may be influenced by his and his son's holding of just under 4 per cent of the shares. The 2,200 small shareholders are being offered a way out, free of dealing charges, by Bullers' brokers in a move that should cut the cost of running the share register. The shares, down 1.75p to 13.75p, remain speculative.

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