Unfortunately, a move away from pure linens to linen mixes over the summer caught management on the hop, creating a jump in stocks. Profits at the unit halved, prompting a precipitate decline in the shares, to 235p on Friday, down from 360p a year ago. Only a pounds 4.4m profit on a property joint venture kept the figures respectable. But brokers have cut back estimates, and now see the year end coming in at around pounds 10m. The shares are a sell.
TODAY is a big day for Manchester United fans, as Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford against Liverpool in his first game following his eight- month ban for a kung fu attack on a Crystal Palace fan. But an even bigger day for shareholders is Tuesday, when the club reports full-year figures to the end of July. The City is confident of another cracking result, with house broker Smith New Court forecasting pre-tax profits of pounds 18.8m, up from pounds 10.8m the previous year.
Whatever the outcome, the figures should give some support to the price, after the team's disappointing early departure from the UEFA Cup competition, in the defeat to Rotor Volgograd. After their 3-0 defeat to lowly York City, it also looks inevitable that they are out of the Coca-Cola Cup.
The two disasters combined will cost United in the order of pounds 4m in lost revenues, most of which will hit the bottom line directly.
Capacity at Old Trafford is also reduced while the club redevelops the North End, depriving it of bread-and-butter income. Despite the return of Cantona, the odds of them lifting another major trophy this season are stacked against them. At 206p, the shares are only for diehards.
WHILE the new-issue pipeline is choc-a-bloc with venture capital and Alternative Investment Market trusts, one current flotation to stand out is Morrison Construction. The Edinburgh-based firm this week set its float price at 115p a share, to value the business at almost pounds 77m. Morrison, one of the UK's largest privately-owned construction groups, is being floated through a placing and intermediaries offer worth pounds 25m, of which pounds 20m is new capital.
Intermediaries only have pounds 2.5m of stock, and the offer closes on Wednesday morning, so if you want to buy shares at the offer price, you will have to move quickly. That said, current jitters in the market and the sector should see the shares remain steady for the first few days of trading.
But they clearly appeal on several counts. Morrison has managed to make profits in each of the past five years - not a boast all its peers can make. Management also has an innovative approach to tendering, refusing to take on contracts at below cost, a policy which has bedevilled rivals in the sector.
BRITISH-BORNEO has been one of the fastest-growing small independent oil and gas companies. Sales have climbed rapidly to the pounds 20m reported at the interim stage, and its reserves would make an attractive addition to many larger companies' portfolios. Although the shares have enjoyed a good run over the past year, the downside is limited. At 282p, there is more to come.
THE outlook for Cable & Wireless grows less favourable by the day. News of a pounds 1.2bn restructuring charge at its French rival Alcatel Alstholm, and a Fr1.23bn loss for the first half, further undermined confidence in the stock.
Nor did uncertainty around Vodafone help, while the mega-demerger of AT&T in the US has upped the competition. Meanwhile, C&W has little concrete to show for its expansion into mobile telephony, and its crown jewel, its majority stake in Hong Kong Telecom, is unlikely to find a buyer given the current political uncertainty in the colony.
City pressure for the company to do something, anything, to correct the impression of a floundering management is mounting. There remains the possibility of a sale of Mercury, but problems in that business do not augur well for the price. So the shares, at 417p, remain unloved. Sell.
A CHANGE of heart by Kleinwort Benson insurance analyst Julianne Jessup towards broker Sedgwick reflects growing disenchantment with the sector. While insurers have seen premium rates harden, brokers have stayed in the cold. Sedgwick's shares reached a five-year low on Friday, at 108p; Ms Jessup believes there will be no dividend growth for three years, and has cut the shares from long-term buy to hold. Kleinwort also cut its profits forecast for 1996 to pounds 85m from pounds 100m. Steer clear.