Hambro is a good way to mine a rich seam

Our view: Buy

Share price: 513p (-47p)

It seems fairly easy logic to follow that if gold prices are on the way up, shares in those companies that mine the stuff might be worth buying. And that makes Peter Hambro Mining rather a tricky punt for investors.

Several analysts believe the price of gold is going to spike in the not-too- distant future, which ordinarily would make the group, which mines gold in Russia, an obvious bet, especially with the shares trading down by more than 50 per cent in the last 12 months. Add to this that the company is about to buy Aricom, an iron ore producer, in a deal that analysts say could transform the group – possibly even propelling it into the FTSE 100 – and the fact that full-year revenues are up 69 per cent, and surely you have a so-called no-brainer.

Well, you do not. The shares were down 8.4 per cent yesterday, after the chairman, Peter Hambro, said that the last year had been one of the toughest he has known: profits were down and the full-year dividend has been cancelled.

Mr Hambro blamed exceptional costs, such as a severe fall in the value of the rouble against the dollar, as well as charges relating to increasing production. He says that to soften the blow for investors, he will take a 50 per cent cut in his bonus.

While Peter Hambro's shares are not expensive, stock prices of miners and exploration groups are largely explained by news and updates. The news from Peter Hambro is likely to be mostly good in the coming months and we reckon that yesterday's dip is a good chance to get in at a depressed level. Buy.


Our view: Buy

Share price: 51p (+8p)

Anyone hunting for green shoots should spend some time speaking to Don Elgie, chief executive of the marketing services group Creston, which yesterday issued an upbeat full-year trading statement. Mr Elgie argues that media companies are about the best indicator of the health of the wider economy, and a share price hike of 53 per cent in the last month suggests that the green shoots will be out in bloom before too long.

The shares are not just up because the wider economy might have taken a turn for the better, however. According to yesterday's update, the company is bringing in new clients at a rate of knots, with net revenue up £15m, against an increase of £9m last year. Companies such as E.On, GlaxoSmithKline and Panasonic have all joined the client list, and while there are worries about the likes of General Motors, which of course has its troubles, Mr Elgie is confident that the group can isolate particular risks.

While Mr Elgie is sure that everything is getting better, the thing that has really given Creston's shares a boost in recent months is the impressive rate at which its debt has been cut.

From an investment point of view it is difficult to ignore Creston even if you do not buy into the green shoots thesis. Yesterday's statement said the group would surpass earnings predictions, sending the stock up 18.6 per cent. Despite the impressive performance yesterday, the stock is still pretty cheap, having been suppressed by debt concerns. The experts at Singer point out that Creston "trades on [a 2010 price earnings ratio of] just 2.9 times and enterprise value to Ebitda higher at 3.8 times. If Creston can provide/maintain reasonable comfort on trading and improvement in debt position, then leverage concerns will reduce and Creston will benefit." Agreed. Buy.

Portland Gas

Our view: Cautious hold

Share price: 58p (+2.25p)

If it is speculative bets you want, look no further than Portland Gas, the Alternative Investment Market-listed group that hopes to tap into what is expected to be a volatile few years for the gas markets by building and running gas storage facilities here and in Europe.

The group's shares are off by more than 82 per cent in the last year, largely because a deal to work with a partner, which it had hoped to pay for the project, collapsed last year. All down to the credit crunch, they say.

A new go at raising funds will be formally launched in May, the group said yesterday as part of its interim results, which showed a £700,000 loss. It now has new advisers and a new plan in place to bring in any number of investors to help fund its projects.

This is clearly not one for the faint-hearted. There is, of course, no guarantee that investors will come forward, despite initial discussions with five, but if a deal does comes off, the group, and more importantly its investors, could do very nicely.

Watchers at Seymour Pierce say the stock is cheap. Of course it is, but punters would be mad to buy it today. The better strategy would be to wait until we learn a little more about how well its hunt for partners is going: if the news is good, buy in spades. Cautious hold.

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