Investment: St Ives may be a shrewd bet

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The Independent Online
ST IVES, the magazine and direct mail printer, almost joined the minus 50 club during the recent market meltdown, with the shares plunging from 546.5p to 287.5p. They rallied to 332.5p, up 15p, against the trend yesterday after chairman Miles Emley said overall prospects look no worse now than last year.

In this economic climate this sounds almost bullish, although St Ives's condition could deteriorate if the economy takes a tumble. Two-thirds of the business comes from magazine printing and direct response advertising, which is vulnerable if a real recession strikes and advertising spending plummets.

In spite of the inclusion of five weeks of figures from the acquired rival Hunters Armley, turnover was static in the year to 31 July, reflecting the impact of the strength of the pound on the Dutch and German operations. Lower income from printing company documents after the flood of demutualisation business in the previous year also depressed turnover.

Profits rose 4.7 per cent to pounds 51.8m as higher net interest income more than offset the extra pounds 1m spent to meet tax changes. St Ives's multimedia business, which prints record and CD sleeves, suffered a setback as market growth slowed.

However, the quality of St Ives's overall business is high, full-year figures from Hunters Armley could be worth pounds 5m and analysts are holding forecasts at pounds 54.5m this year and earnings of 35.3p per share, and 37.5p in 1999/2000. The shares, on a nine times forward multiple, could be a shrewd bet if a recession proves short and shallow.

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