Investment Column: Testing time for SHL

FOR A company whose main function is psychometric testing for employment purposes, SHL has been spectacularly poor at analysing its own business prospects. Floated at 245p in October SHL has managed to fit two profits warnings into its brief stock market life. Yesterday's broadside knocked 45 per cent off the shares, taking them to 144p, well below the issue price.

The problem is America. The group has been guilty of over-optimism on sales. The conversion of prospects into revenues has been lower than expected, leading to a pounds 1.6m first-half loss in the US compared to a small profit last time. A new chief operating officer has been appointed to help turn the situation around and costs are being trimmed.

It was the poor US performance that restricted first half profits to pounds 4.5m, down from the previous year's pounds 4.8m. Elsewhere the Meridian business in the UK and Ireland grew profits by more than 40 per cent, as did the European operation.

SHL's house broker has revised its full year forecast from pounds 12.3m to pounds 10m. That puts the shares on a suitably modest forward rating of around 14. It is too late for existing shareholders to sell now. For others the stock may look cheap but after two profits warnings SHL needs at least two good sets of figures to restore its damaged credibility. Potentially good value, but there is no rush.

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