Great start for our top share tips

The Indy's annual top 10 of stocks to pick have shown a 33 per cent return so far. James Moore, chief tipster, reflects on the gambles that seem to be paying off

With trading suspended for the Easter break it seems like an opportune time to check up on the performance of this year's 10 shares to follow. The 10 are selected by myself at the end of the year with the help of The Independent's team of business writers. It is a rather artificial construct – professionals would probably run a mile at the prospect of being told to pick just 10 shares that they would then have to stick with for a year. All the same, the aim is still very much to try to beat the market, which we have managed to do with some degree of consistency.

However, never to the extent of this year.

As things stand the Indy's 10 is showing a positive return of 33 per cent. Nine out of 10 of our picks are in the black, with one (Providence Resources) having more than doubled in value.

By contrast, the FTSE 100 has basically been treading water. Having finished 2011 at 5,572.28, the index got off to a flyer, but has recently eased back and stood at 5,723.67 at the close of trading on Thursday, producing a positive return of 2.7 per cent.

How did we do it? Well, there was more than a bit of gambler's luck in there. When compiling the 10 I always like to include at least one (and sometimes more) really risky tips which have the potential for a big pay-off. Otherwise why bother?

This year's was Providence. The Aim-listed oil and gas explorer is focused on offshore Ireland, and began drilling the first of a series of test wells in November to determine whether its Barryroe field, situated in the North Celtic Sea Basin, had commercial quantities of oil.

The share price at the time suggested it didn't. That all changed last month when the company revealed it had discovered the first commercially viable well. A placing of new stock did little to dispel the froth making it the biggest winner in the 10 by some way.

Providence was a blatant gamble – there are a myriad of oil explorers listed in London and picking a winner is very much a question of luck. If one of them fails to strike black gold they can easily collapse in value.

However, there were other shares which we selected on the basis of sound financial logic, including two picked from a sector that on the face of it shouldn't make a happy hunting ground: retailers.

Burberry has gone global and the market has woken up to the potential of its overseas outlets. Meanwhile JD Sports Fashion just looked absurdly cheap based on its earnings multiple. Other investors have taken note and the shares have surged.

The same is true of William Hill, even after the hit the bookie took from the Chancellor's imposition of a new gaming machine duty at a swingeing 20 per cent. Hills remains a solid earner with a good yield.

Oil services group Amec has been riding the wave of the oil industry's capital expenditure cycle (very much on the upswing) while Rolls-Royce is a hardy perennial which should hold a place in almost any sensible portfolio.

Meanwhile Intermediate Capital, a provider of mezzanine finance, a type of debt that sits between bank lending and equity, was selected because we felt it would profit from the withdrawal of banks from this sector of the market. It has done and should continue to do so.

Moneysupermarket's obnoxious new ads look to be spurring a fightback against Comparethemarket.com's even more obnoxious meerkats (whose latest outing suggests the hairs are starting to fall out), which brings us to Lloyds Banking Group.

This was perhaps the most hotly debated of the selections, not least because of its uncertainties at the top (the chief executive took an unscheduled break because of a mystery illness that stopped him from sleeping) and its government bailout. But like JD the shares just looked to have fallen to a ridiculously low level, although they remain a risky proposition.

Our only loser was African Barrick Gold, deliberately chosen as a hedge against the roof falling in (exposure to gold can be a good idea if markets take a turn for the worse). There's still room for a recovery, however.

In the meantime our guest tipster, in the form of my four-year-old son, also turned a profit of 17 per cent with his five (Ladbrokes, Unilever, Aga Rangemaster, International Power and ITV) which he found with the aid of a pin and the Indy's share listings. So perhaps we shouldn't get too above ourselves.

Putting together the selections of our eight professionals (they each picked one share each to follow) also produced a positive return of 13 per cent. Their shares were Telecity, Salamander Energy, GlaxoSmithKline, Imperial Tobacco, Shell, Corero Network Security and Burberry (twice).

How was it that the FTSE 100 proved so easy to beat? The problem with the blue chip index is that it is dominated by a handful of truly enormous companies. They include oil giants (BP and Shell) the drugs company GlaxoSmithKline, several huge mining companies with rather low name recognition, and HSBC, the bank. You only need for a couple of those to perform poorly (and these mega-caps have performed like big lumbering beasts of late) for the index to get dragged down.

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