If you're in for a penny...

Review of the year

BEST and worst performers out of the total market give penny stocks, in all their weird and wonderful forms, an opportunity to seize their annual moment of triumph or disaster.

It is here, of course, that the biggest gainers - and the biggest losers - turn up.

At the top of the table, it is an often brief moment when smaller stocks can outshine their heavyweight cousins. Blacks Leisure has returned its investors 589 per cent this year, or a rise of 294.5p. Behind this dazzling ascent is a straightforward turnaround story. A few years ago the company was a loss-making chain of sports shops, with a disastrous own brand of football kit, Quasar. Now, after careful cost-cutting, and helped by events such as Euro 96, the company is riding high. Last year, profits jumped to pounds 2.1m, from pounds 650,000, and are predicted to hit pounds 8.5m in 1997.

In the number two slot, BBB Design is a small reprographics and marketing consultancy. There are signs of improvement at the company, which has had a rocky profits track record. But the most significant event in 1996 was the decision by Neville Buch, the former chairman of Blenheim Exhibitions, to step in as non-executive chairman. He is also taking a 30 per cent stake in the business. Investors hope his touch can work the same magic as at Blenheim.

Although sales are just over pounds 1m, BBB comfortably outperformed the number three slot, held by Jarvis, a construction to facilities management group and another turnaround story, which has been moving into railway infrastructure. Following its acquisition of Northern Infrastructure Maintenance Company in May for pounds 9m, the shares have exploded, and are up 512 per cent, to 120.5p. Despite expectations that the best-performing football share would be Manchester United, that accolade goes to Celtic, floated on the AIM, with its shares now at pounds 31.50 - up 381 per cent. Curiously, Man Utd was also beaten by Caspian Group, the new owner of Leeds United, which rose 35p, to 45.5p.

Best and worst-performing shares

Gainers Price on Rise % change 26 Dec 1996 on 26 Dec

(pence) last year

BlacksLeisure 344.50 294.50 589.00

BBB Design Group 70.50 59.50 540.91

Jarvis 144.00 120.50 512.77

Celtic 31,500.00 24950.00 380.92

Abacus Recruitment 84.50 66.50 369.44

Ferrum Holding 7.00 5.50 366.67

Caspian Group 45.50 35.00 333.33

Cairn Energy 416.50 302.87 266.57

Goodwin 130.00 92.00 242.11

British Borneo 815.00 572.08 235.51

Manchester United 650.00 455.00 233.33

Losers

Club Partners 2.50 28.50 91.94

NSM (suspended) 8.00 69.00 89.61

Lionheart 7.75 65.37 89.40

Haemocell 3.75 22.75 85.85

Memory Corporation 63.50 359.50 84.99

Applied DS Group 30.00 161.00 84.29

Omnimedia 11.50 56.50 83.09

Jacques Vert 32.50 149.50 82.14

Yorkshire Food Group 14.50 65.50 81.87

Hansom 8.00 33.00 80.49

Telspec 172.50 635.50 78.65

Creightons Naturally 27.50 97.50 78.00

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