Investment: Medicine works for Oasis

OASIS HAD a disastrous 1997, with two profits warnings dragging the shares down from 421.5p to a low of 120p. Since then the women's fashion retailer has been undergoing a gradual rehabilitation.

The buying mistakes which wrecked trading last year are one of the risks that come with the territory in fashion chains. But Oasis has been beefing up its buying department, introducing better systems and more checks and balances to ensure things do not get so out of kilter again.

So far the medicine seems to be working. Pre-tax profits of pounds 4.8m for the first half were 30 per cent higher than the same period last year, pushing the shares 8.5p higher to 160p.

The key like-for-like figures look encouraging, although the business is trading against extremely weak comparisons. Same-store sales grew by 9 per cent in the first half and are up by 19 per cent in the first seven weeks of the second.

August was grim, with poor weather hampering sales of summer dresses and the like. Oasis marked stock down aggressively and managed to shift most of it before its autumn ranges came in.

Overall, the margin has edged up, which is no mean feat.

Store openings have been pegged back owing to high property rents.

The Coast concessions business, which was acquired for pounds 1m in April, has yet to make a contribution, but will gradually be shifted toward a high-street operation and could look interesting in two or three years.

On full-year forecasts of pounds 14m, the shares trade on a forward multiple of just 9 and yield 5 per cent.

With comparisons weak until next January, the shares look decent value in an unloved sector.