RETROSPECTIVE / The year when the tiddlers triumphed: Derek Pain recalls how the big fish missed out on the 1993 stock market surge and were more likely to finish up among the losers

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The Independent Online
IN A YEAR when the stock market scaled new peaks with monotonous regularity, it might not have been unreasonable to imagine that a blue chip would at last feature in the top ten performing shares.

Not so. Even when records fell like ninepins, the tiddlers still romped ahead. Indeed, the contribution from the leaders came, rather embarrassingly, at the other end of the table - the losers.

Among the laggards are such former stars as Tiphook, nursing an 82 per cent fall, and Ferranti, suspended and to all intents and purposes a stock market goner.

The performances of the blue- chip shooting stars such as British Aerospace and HSBC pale compared with unknowns such as Regent Corporation, up 814 per cent, and Eidos, 804 per cent.

So a rip-roaring year provided yet another opportunity for fringe and obscure shares to retain their supremacy over the giants.

Many started 1993 looking decidedly bombed out and in urgent need of some not-so-gentle resuscitation. Consequently, some winners emerged from the clouded uncertainty of old- fashioned penny share status. Just a hint of better times can double, even treble, a tiddler's value.

Regent, with a late run, managed to edge out Eidos to claim the championship.

It is a classic example of new life for a fallen star. Its recent erratic career is underlined by its habit of changing names. It started 1993 as Waverley Cameron, ended it as Regent, but for most of the 12 months existed as Nouvelle.

Regent looked completely wrecked until the builders Christopher Johnson and Carl Turpin, accompanied by the usual rights issue, arrived. They transformed the old stationer, once famous for its Waverley fountain pen, into a fledgling building group.

Eidos, however, is not in the revival category. It is an example of the market's much-maligned willingness to back a hunch. The shares of this loss-making video editing systems business slipped quietly on to the market in late 1990 at 100p.

With losses mounting and little evidence of an upsurge, the shares displayed ever-decreasing enthusiasm, bottoming last year at 18p.

But high-tech shares, such as Avesco and Tadpole Technology, have boomed in 1993, and although Eidos was missed by many, it attracted the attention of a few professional investors. With most of its 2.5 million shares tightly held, it did not require much buying to generate the share surge.

In trading terms Eidos has still to deliver the goods. Time, however, is still on its side.

Not surprisingly, builders, beneficiaries of lower interest rates, loom large. But not the famous names like Barratt Developments. Besides the obscure Regent, Banner Homes and Dares Estates feature among the winners.

Banner had a few inbuilt advantages. The company had stumbled into losses as the recession devastated the industry. But it hauled itself back into profit in the 18 months ended September and has since indulged in a pounds 2.9m cash call and moved to a full listing.

The rights, and cash raised from the sale of its industrial portfolio, will help to develop its 38 sites. Most of its sites are regarded as high quality, offering potential for more than 800 homes.

But investors who backed Banner when it came to market six years ago will view this year's progress ruefully. They are, allowing for inflation, still out of pocket. The shares were floated at 102p.

However, they have fared much better than many of the top 10, which have been the subject of rescue revamps. For example, Regent shares were nudging 100p five years ago.

Indeed Regent is, perhaps, the classic example of this year's high- flyer. In its life before being rescued from the corporate graveyard it became the vehicle of James Gulliver, who created Argyll Group, owner of Safeway supermarkets, and fought that unsuccessful and bruising battle with Guinness for the old Distillers Company.

Ferromet, in fourth position, is another to have seen better times. Last year the former England and Middlesex cricketer Phil Edmonds became chief executive.

It has Russian links, fashionable in today's market, and plans to trade in metals. A name change is expected - to Middlesex Holdings.

Leading the ragged, tattered army of losers is Raglan Property. To some extent it owes its unfortunate placing merely to the timing of its revamp, which created heady dilution.

Twenty-five years ago Raglan captured City headlines when the legendary Jim Rowland-Jones, in his day the City's most professional rebel shareholder, berated, harassed and even cajoled the then board.

It kept a low profile after the Rowland-Jones era but, like so many other property groups, hit trouble when interest rates soared and property prices crashed. A capital reorganisation in the summer saved the company although, with a 99 per cent decline, little was left for the long-standing shareholders.

----------------------------------------------------------------- BEST AND WORST SHARES OF 1993 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Winners. . . Company Price (p) Percentage gain Regent Corp 6.75 814 Eidos 190.00 805 Banner Homes 116.00 803 Ferromet 4.00 668 Dares Estates 9.00 620 Alliance Resources 6.75 610 Kitty Little 56.00 600 Lincoln House 30.50 577 Comac Grp 115.00 568 Merivale Moore 80.00 567 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Losers. . . Company Price (p) Percentage fall Raglan Property 40.00 99 Ferranti* 1.00 90 Midlands & Scottish 2.50 85 Tiphook 57.00 82 UK Land 31.00 82 Benchmark Grp 37.00 82 Fairbriar 15.00 81 AAF Industries 36.00 78 Owen & Robinson 30.00 78 Premier Heath Grp 2.00 78 ----------------------------------------------------------------- * Suspended -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photographs omitted)

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