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Fair MAID not for faint hearts:The Investment Column

MAID, the on-line business information group run by Dan Wagner, 31, is riding the crest of the Internet wave. In an eventful two years on the stock market, its shares have risen from the 100p issue price to 259p while the market capitalisation has soared to pounds 240m. This is quite an achievement for a company that racked up sales of less than pounds 10m last year and is forecast to makes losses of pounds 3.7m in 1996.

The value is based on MAID's impressive technological know-how, which it harnesses to supply business information such as newspaper cuttings, market research and news wire services to a growing subscriber base. It doesn't own the copyright of this information but has developed systems that sort and package it in a way few rivals can match. Given the vast mass of information available on the Internet, that is an important selling point.

MAID's position in the market is strong if not impregnable. It has 10 years of experience in the field, giving it a significant head-start on many rivals. Yesterday's first-quarter figures were broadly as expected, with a dive into the red as MAID invests in new sales offices and a larger sales force. Losses of pounds 1.4m in the three months to the end of March compared with pounds 211,000 profits in 1995. Sales were 60 per cent ahead at pounds 4.5m. Subscriber revenue almost doubled to pounds 2.2m

The company has also been busy signing up deals with IBM to supply electronic business intelligence and with Forte to provide hotel guests with access to the Internet.

As with biotech stocks, the other stockmarket flavour of the month, rating companies like MAID is more art than science and all about taking a bet on unquantifiable potential. Broker Charles Stanley is forecasting losses of pounds 3.7m this year turning into profits of pounds 12.6m in 1997. A good long- term prospect but, as with all technology stocks, not for the faint-hearted.