Investment: No Pain, No Gain: Our Man's Portfolio - It's fishy, but it's fun

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The Independent Online
DEEP-SEA LEISURE has not made much of a splash in the City since it floated on the Alternative Investment Market three years ago. Although no slouch when it comes to consumer public relations, it has adopted a low investment profile, hiding its merits under the proverbial bushel.

But its trading success indicates a wider following is deserved and its shares, although highly speculative, will add a touch of excitement to the no pain, no gain portfolio. Make no mistake, DSL remains in the development stage and things could still go horribly wrong. But if developments proceed according to plan and the group's two visitor attractions continue to prosper the shares should be a rewarding flutter.

The company was launched by the managing director Phil Crane, a director of the old Cityvision video chain, seven years ago. Its first venture was Deep-Sea World, a walk-through aquarium at North Queensferry in Scotland. Last year a similar aquarium, the Blue Planet, opened at Cheshire Oaks, near Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. The walk-through idea is popular in the US and Australia. Customers wander along a clear plastic tunnel inside an aquarium, plunged into the underwater world of sharks and tropical fish.

Deep-Sea World has been profitable from its launch and the Blue Planet, although opening late and missing four key trading months, appears to have contributed to last year's figures. DSL produced profits of more than pounds 1m. But exceptional charges left the company with a pounds 49,000 loss. The Blue Planet development was responsible. Charges included a payment to nearby Chester Zoo for its agreement not to oppose a pounds 3.1m grant from a European development agency for the 18-acre project. The Euro grant, bank money and the pounds 3m-plus raised when DSL floated on AIM, financed the pounds 14m Blue Planet concept.

The financial drain has coloured the market's approach to the shares. The company appears to be trading well and said it was "on line" to produce its best results. DSL shares were sold to investors at 160p. They did hit 390p but have drifted along untroubled at around 250p for much of the past year.

The group does not appear to have more expensive go-it-alone projects, and much of its future expansion may be through management contracts and joint ventures which, of course, are nowhere near as capital-intensive. Mr Crane, with nearly 22 per cent of the capital, is harbouring hopes of developments in Germany, Holland and Spain.

Besides the excitement over Allied Domecq, one other constituent of the no pain, no gain portfolio has attracted attention. Gowrings, the garages to fast-food restaurants combination, produced record interim profits and its shares climbed to 151.5p against 103.5p when they joined the portfolio in April. They are now 147.5p.

Paul Hickman at stockbroker Peel Hunt has put a 200p target on the shares and expects profits this year to hit pounds 1.94m, up from pounds 1.61m.