Investment Column: Beattie looks to expand

THINGS seem to be looking up for James Beattie, the Wolverhampton- based department store retailer. The company has nine stores but has not opened a new one for years. It has concentrated instead on expansions to its existing outlets, while adopting a strict approach to cost control.

Now, however, it is set to expand. It is adding an extra 120,000 of new space to four existing stores at a cost of pounds 12m. But it is also on the look out for new sites and acquisitions are even being mentioned. With pounds 2m cash in the bank, the firepower is there.

Investors appear to have been warming to Beattie, which only a few years ago was a slumbering family company with an outdated dual voting structure.

But the shares have been perking up recently and, from the year's low of 142p in the summer, they rose 14p to a new high of 178.5p yesterday on the back of good results. They showed that profits last year rose by 21 per cent to pounds 9.3m on sales up 5 per cent to pounds 103m.

Beattie seems to have missed out on the windfall money last year but the company says the outlook is encouraging, with trading in February and March "marginally" ahead of last year.

On analysts' forecasts of pounds 9.7m, the shares trade on a forward rating of 11, which looks about right.