Maid set for first payout

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The Independent Online
Investors in Maid, the on-line business information group, could be set for a maiden dividend payment this year, three years after the company floated on the stock market.

Following the recent bullish noises made by the company, Dan Wagner, chief executive and founder, said yesterday there was no reason why a dividend should not be paid this year, but added that the exact sum had not been agreed.

Alastair Smellie, media analyst at ABN Amro Hoare Govett, had notionally pencilled in a 2p dividend for the end of the year.

Although this year's first- quarter pre-tax profits of pounds 2.3m, announced yesterday, were artificially inflated by the pounds 3.5m sale of the Internet in hotels technology to 4th Network, the City expected Maid to be on track for a profit during the third and fourth quarters this year.

Mr Wagner remained optimistic over prospects. "This year's going to be a very profitable year. Despite concern over us, at the end of the day we've achieved," he said. Maid's share price rose 3p to 240.5p yesterday.

The chief executive said Maid would be actively pursuing its alliance strategy, which has seen deals with high-profile names such as IBM, Microsoft and CompuServe. A new tie-up with a global blue-chip company would be announced in the next few weeks, he said.

Recent months have been troubled for Maid, which has seen its share price slide in response to City concerns about its losses.

The Stock Exchange began an investigation into the company last month after unusual share price movement. Mr Wagner said he had not been informed of the outcome of the investigation and the Stock Exchange declined to comment.

Despite the profit predictions from the company, some analysts yesterday downgraded forecasts for the full year due to the news that a link-up with CompuServe was behind schedule and only went live last month.

Mike Hilton, media analyst at Kleinwort Benson, nudged his pre-tax profit forecasts down slightly to pounds 9.5m for the year. But Mr Smellie estimatedpounds 11.5m for 1997, rising to as much as pounds 20m the next year.

The number of staff employed by Maid has more than doubled to 430 in the past year, and the number of offices has increased from five at the beginning of last year to 23. Mr Wagner claimed the company had added 3,100 clients during the past year, taking the total now serviced to 4,300.

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