Hambro holding its head up high

Review of the year
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The Independent Online
At The start of the year few would have dared to tip Hambro Countrywide to be the best performer of the largest 500 companies in the UK. The estate agency business, majority owned by Hambros, the merchant banking group, has suffered from the depressed housing market, and in 1995, it ran up losses of pounds 21m.

At the interim stage, however, it had rebounded to pounds 10.5m, which still leaves an element of expectation in the share price as, although the group is trading profitably, much hinges on the strength of the housing recovery. But the group has continued to build its market share, and investors believe it can make at least pounds 25m for the full year.

Trafalgar House, after years of under-performance, finally came good, showing investors a 117 per cent return, after it was bought by Norway's Kvaerner.

Tour operator Airtours has been boosted by news of bookings for 1997 reaching record levels, while the company also reported record profits of pounds 87m, a rise of 46 per cent on 1995 profits.

Among the worst fallers is Matthew Clark, which claimed to be a victim of the alcopops phenomenon, but which, after some obfuscation from management, seemed merely to have been a victim of over-ambitious expansion. The shares lost 61 per cent.

ASW Holdings, the Cardiff-based steelmaker, has been the victim of a weak construction market. With sales down from pounds 331.6m to pounds 280.7m in the first half to June, operating profit of pounds 16.8m became a loss of pounds 18.5m. Sherwood Group, the lace-to- sock-maker has had problems with new machinery, while the taste for lace in Britain has suffered a downturn and a profits warning sent shares plummeting.

Winners % change (rise) Hambro Countrywide 131.25

Trafalgar House 117.39

Airtours 116.49

Losers %change (fall)

Matthew Clark 61.34

ASW Holdings 58.86

Sherwood Group 58.41