Investment: FKI's progress fails to convince the City

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The Independent Online
POOR OLD FKI. The engineering group has come a long way in the past few years - selling off a load of old businesses and buying some new ones. All this has been good for its bottom line, and earnings per share have grown by more than 40 per cent since 1996, with another 12 per cent rise forecast for the year to March.

But investors are not convinced. In the past three years, FKI's shares have trailed the rest of the market by almost 50 per cent. Yesterday they fell again, dropping 8.5p to 120.5p, as FKI warned of a "difficult and uncertain economic background".

These worries are hardly new .In FKI's case, however, they are amplified by continued jitters about the group's strategic direction.

But chief executive Bob Beeston insists there are no plans to add to FKI's three divisions, although it is looking for a distribution business to bolt on to its existing operations. It may even consider further disposals.

Meanwhile, FKI's reputation for squeezing higher margins and cash out of its businesses remains fully deserved. A 56 per cent increase in capital spending suggests this is not being achieved at the expense of long-term growth prospects.

True, some caution is sensible. But on a forward multiple of just seven times forecast full-year profits the shares look horribly oversold. A speedy recovery is unlikely, but it's hard to see the shares falling any further.

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