Investment: Gartland's view is a lot less rosy

NOT EVERYONE shares Eddie George's view that the threat of recession has receded. Tony Gartland is chairman of Gartland Whalley & Barker, the AIM-listed investment vehicle specialising in growing companies to the point where they can be floated or bought by venture capitalists. From where he sits at the sharp end of UK business, matters don't look that good.

GWB has three quoted investments. Cirqual, a manufacturer of industrial components, traded successfully but the shares have fallen 60 per cent from their high point last year and a possible takeover bid fell through. Aquarius, which makes goods for the home improvement market, has been rewarded for an outstanding trading performance last year with a 40 per cent drop in the share price. Quantica, a training and recruitment company floated in June, has gone steadily downhill ever since and is now worth less than half its flotation price, although GWB booked a useful profit.

GWB itself made 11 acquisitions, floated one business and sold another during the year, and profits in the portfolio of quoted and unquoted companies almost doubled to pounds 25.2m.

Even allowing for a big drop in profits on disposals and a sharply higher interest charge, profits rose by 17 per cent to pounds 24.2m in the year to the end of October. But the total return on assets, including changes in value of investments, showed a profit of only pounds 8.6m and earnings of 8.42p, down from pounds 21.2m and 21.43p the previous year.

Mr Gartland feels there are bargains to be picked up in current market conditions, but admits there is little scope for taking profits by floating companies in the portfolio. GWB shares closed down 12.5p at 94.5p, little more than half their value last July.

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