Institutions turn cool as AIM becomes victim of own success

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The Independent Online
The Alternative Investment Market is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. There are clear signs of overheating, with old-fashioned new-issue fatigue leaving many investors reluctant to take up shares.

Half-a dozen-institutions are said to have turned their backs on AIM, at least until the autumn. They are believed to be fed up with the amount of time and effort they are expected to spend dealing with the inevitable round of presentations that accompany most flotations. And often the companies are so small and with so little investment appeal that fund managers find the exercise a waste of time.

There are also said to be worries about the liquidity of the junior market and the lack of interest often apparent once initial dealing has been completed. The twitchiness creeping into the AIM new issue queue was highlighted by stockbroker Teather & Greenwood. It emerged that it had pulled the flotation of VLSI, an Uxbridge distributor of computer components, not because it was worried about the company but it felt the market was "a bit iffy".

Said the broker: "Everyone has either gone away for their holidays or gone to the Test match or Wimbledon. We felt it might be in the company's best interests to hang on until the autumn".

With the stampede to take AIM gathering strength there seems every chance that others will suffer the same fate as VLSI. The astonishing success of AIM has surprised many. Since it was launched last summer it has attracted a stream of companies, ranging from established groups to hopeful newcomers. The near-200 constituents spread over breweries, football clubs and assorted hi-tech groups.

Dring's of Bath, a stonemason, joined on Friday. Cirqual, an aluminium specialist, arrives on Monday. It is led by ex-FKI chief executive Tony Gartland and is expected to achieve a heady premium over its 122p placing. Watermark, a sales promotion and event management group moving from Ofex, should appear this week via an introduction by stockbroker Durlacher. Its chief executive is a former broker, John Caulcutt.

BATM, a maker of high-speed data equipment, is another candidate for a debut this week. Others hoping soon to embrace the fledgling share market include Alizyme, a biotech business; Chemical Design; Fayrewood, an audio equipment group; Hat Pin, a headhunter; Jeff Wayne Music; Life Numbers, supplying personal telephone numbers; London & Edinburgh, a publisher; LotteryKing, offering lottery tickets and dispensers to clubs; Network Technology, a computer group; Pordum Foods, a gourmet meals delivery service; SCi, a computer games designer; and Tescom, a computer software manufacturer.

At least a score of other companies are at various stages of working their way to the junior market.

Ofex, the fringe share market run by old-style jobber John Jenkins, has also enjoyed a new issue rush. It too has exceeded expectations, with the shares of more than 100 companies already traded. It has successfully undertaken its biggest cash-raising exercise, pulling in pounds 2m for Robotic Technology, which has a robot-operated grinding system. It also has a stream of newcomers on their way, including Happy Hotels, Legends, a water sports retailer, and Woodstock, a pubs chain.

It all represents a busy - and profitable - time for many of the smaller finance houses and stockbrokers. Summer is normally one of the less active new-issue periods. If the present batch of hopefuls enjoy successful AIM debuts, the junior market will be in danger of being overwhelmed once the City gets back in full swing in the autumn. Certainly acute indigestion is a serious danger.

The new issue queue for the main market is less congested. Allied Carpets, British Energy and Somerfield, the supermarket chain, are among those on their way.

Although the Government has made a significant contribution - Railtrack as well as British Energy - the flow of new issues to the main market has been surprisingly thin. Somerfield's pounds 500m flotation is the biggest non-privatisation share sale so far this year.

Even rights issues have been relatively subdued, considering the level of the market. Cash calls have yet to reach pounds 3bn; so far, well below the pounds 10.1bn begging bowl peak of 1991.

Big rights issues and flotations have, therefore, had little influence on the market's first half-year performance and Bob Semple at NatWest Securities is not looking for a rush of opportunistic cash calls in the rest of the year.

Political worries remain the biggest influence on the market which had a volatile time last week. Nick Knight at Nomura believes there is no shame in sitting out the rest of the summer with cash in the bank. He is one of those looking for a year-end Footsie around 3,400 points. "Investors should still sell the rallies, not buy the dips," is his advice. But Ian Harnett at Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull is as cheerful as ever. He believes the market is ready for a "major correction of 10 per cent or more".

The results programme, not surprisingly, is getting increasingly thin. Only two large groups are scheduled to offer figures this week.

Today, Tomkins, the conglomerate, is due to roll out figures. They are unlikely to be much of a surprise; only a few weeks ago it forecast profits would be "in excess" of pounds 320m. Last year's figure was pounds 303m. Like other conglomerates, Tomkins' shares have had a poor time; they are only just above their 12-month low.

On the other hand shares of Dixons, the electrical retailer, are having an electrifying time, near their peak at 522p.

Profits, due on Wednesday, are likely to emerge at around pounds 138m, against pounds 100.3m. Hopes are running high for continuing progress this year, with the group's dominant position in its segment of the retail market and the feel-good factor less elusive. The shares, weighed down by its US problems, were a mere 170p two years ago.

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