Goldsmiths soars on bid talk

SHARES IN Goldsmiths, the jewellery chain, shot up from 112p to 164p yesterday, after the group confirmed it had received a "very preliminary approach" which could lead to a bid.

Analysts suggested a trade sale to a large store chain or bid from rival jeweller Signet, but no hot favourite emerged. Goldsmiths has resisted the gloom that has overtaken most high street retail chains from Marks & Spencer down.

Earlier this year sales were running 10 per cent ahead of 1997 levels and Jurek Piasecki, the chairman and chief executive, has continued to predict sales increases in the run-up to the crucial Christmas period.

Analysts have only slightly trimmed their profit forecasts while still projecting a modest overall increase. But the shares have been badly affected by the market shake-out. Earlier this year the shares were trading at 280p and even after yesterday's rebound the market capitalisation is still under pounds 39m.

Five leading shareholders, including M&G Investment Management, control 23 per cent of the shares and the directors a further 13 per cent. Last year the chairman and chief executive set out an ambitious target of doubling the size of the business by expanding the distribution and office facilities and embarking on a programme to open 15 new outlets a year.

Shareholders last year also approved an ambitious incentive scheme for the directors, which required them to increase earnings per share by 100 per cent over five years if they are to receive any benefit and by 150 per cent to derive the maximum value.

The base for the calculation is 15.3p a share in 1996. Earnings rose to 19.1p in the year to 31 January 1998 and analysts still expect 21.5p in the current year, rising to 25.3p next year.