Investment View: G4S is worth a punt after that Olympics debacle

There is no doubt that an improvement in relations with Government bodes well
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The Independent Online

I have something of a ragbag of companies for today's column involved in a variety of activities kicking off with G4S, the security company to which the sobriquet "beleaguered" is usually added as a result of the Olympics debacle.

It would be all right if the Olympics were the only snafu the company was involved in but I'm afraid that's not the case. It isn't that long ago G4S was trying to pull off an ill-thought-out and badly handled mega-merger with a Danish cleaning company.

After a couple of doozies like that you might wonder how on earth the richly rewarded chief executive had kept his job, but Nick Buckles is still in place and one fund manager even moaned that MPs giving him a hard time made Britain look "anti business".

However, this year is dawning a little brighter for the business. It seems that forgiveness is in the air. Towards the end of last week G4S won a two-year extension to its contract to run the Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent for another two years. It's the first contract the group has been awarded by the UK Government since it failed to deliver sufficient security guards for the Games.

Having a company like G4S running children's services makes me very uncomfortable. In fact it operates seven homes for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and manages three secure training centres for the Youth Justice Board.

That said, there is no doubt that an improvement in relations with Government bodes well for G4S, and it is significant that it has been shortlisted for a contract to run calls centres for the Department for Work & Pensions.

From an investment perspective there may now be a case for taking a speculative punt on the shares which have been picking up some momentum recently. They trade on just above 11 times this year's earnings, while yielding nearly 3.5 per cent which is respectable enough. The longer-term attraction of this stock is its overseas businesses with developing markets set to grow to about 50 per cent of group revenues by 2019.

So, if you can stomach it, the shares are worth a speculative punt.

Capita Group is another of those businesses which relies on Government work for a lot of its income, although it also serves the corporate sector.

The Independent has been advising either a buy or a hold on the group for a long time now, and overall the shares' performance have justified that, setting new, all-time highs recently. But the valuation, at 14.7 times forecast earnings for this year with a solid-enough prospective yield of 3 per cent, isn't stretched by historic standards.

It's hard to see the company shooting ahead from here, but the mania for outsourcing doesn't seem to have died off and although government spending is contracting, Capita's business is widely spread and the shares should hold their ground. That said, this column has generally sought to consider ethics when advising on investments. Capita will be involved in the Government's assessments for personal independence payments (Pips) for disabled people. I declare an interest: I am disabled.

Finally, and less controversially, I update on Ashtead, which rents equipment to companies in the US and UK.

It's in a sweet spot because when capital is scarce renting pays dividends. Same goes for when the economy is choppy – hiring from Ashtead provides you with flexibility because you don't have to leave expensive kit sitting idle when the work isn't there.

The shares have performed stunningly well over the last three years, and that's good news for this column. I've been a buyer.

They now trade on 18 times forecasts for the year ending 30 April, falling to 15.4 times next year's.

Gravity, you would think, should eventually pull the shares down a bit. No company enjoys an unbroken path to the sun.

That said, I'd still be inclined to hold because over the long term this business ought to be a winner.