Limelight looks fit to rebound into profits

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The Independent Online
SHARES GOING up yesterday were few and far between but Limelight, the Manchester-based makers and retailers of fully-fitted kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and conservatories, managed a 3p rise to 33.5p.

The company, which trades under various names - Sharps, Moben, Dolphin and Kitchens Direct - issued a trading statement saying simply that trading remained tough in the final quarter of the year, but Limelight had performed in line with expectations in 1998 and the current year had begun reasonably well.

In the January sale period - traditionally the peak season - sales were 8 per cent up on last year: quite an achievement at a time when many high- street retailers are feeling the pinch. However, the company insists it is still too early to take any firm position on the outlook for trading after January.

Some of the success is down to increased advertising and promotion, but it is likely that falling mortgage rates are encouraging home owners to plough some of the money they save on mortgages back into home improvements.

Limelight's shares have not been spectacular performers since they were floated at 188p three years ago, and the path has generally been downward. But Andrew Stanway, who stepped up to the post of chief executive after a management shakeup, has succeeded in taking out costs and sold the loss- making Portland Windows.

Richard Ratner, of brokers Seymour Pierce, now rates the shares a speculative buy. He forecasts a rebound from a pounds 12m loss after restructuring costs in 1997 to a profit of pounds 8m and earnings of 5.6p a share last year, rising to pounds 11m and 7.80p in 1999.