Market Report: Russian miner loses lustre for investors


What's in a name? Peter Hambro, scion of one of Europe's oldest banking families, changed the name of his gold miner to Petropavlovsk in September 2009. Since then the shares have fallen more than 70 per cent.

The name change to an indigenous Russian moniker cannot be blamed for the shares burial near the bottom of the mid-tier index yesterday. A change of heart in the City on the prospects for Russian gold is the likely cause of investors rushing for the exit.

Nomura's metal experts now reckon that Petropavlovsk's lack of exploration success and its focus on getting gold out of its Pokrovskiy mine via a complex process known as POX (pressure oxidization) is the problem. The POX process could be expensive, and until investors have a clearer idea of the time and cost of this process then the shares are "in limbo", Nomura reckon.

They are so unsure of the outcome for the miner that they have slashed their rating of the stock from "buy" to "reduce", and took the red pen to the share price target – down from 760p to 240p.

Yesterday the shares responded with a 21.3p decline to 253.2p.

If the POX hub at Pokrovskiy is delivered on time and on budget the shares will rise, but until investors and analysts have an idea that this will actually happen Normura thinks the shares are not worth buying.

The only worse-performing stock on the second tier yesterday was the travel group National Express. Investors took the exit road following news that the activist investor Elliott International is selling half its stake.

After the markets closed on Wednesday night, the US fund Elliott said it plans to sell half its stake – 9.9 per cent of the company – and the shares parked at the bottom of the mid-cap index.

Elliott turned up for a ride on the coach-to-train group after the 2009 rights issue. Deutsche Bank's scribes think "this investment has not been as successful as Elliott would have wished", but the sale "reflects a desire for better return on capital rather than any fundamental problem with National Express".

The placing will increase liquidity in the shares, but Oriel Securities' analysts question what Elliott will do with the rest. Oriel said: "The tone of the statement does not suggest a desire to sell more in a hurry, but much may depend on future share price performance."

Liberum Capital gives the shares a 280p target price, but they journeyed down 25.5p to 204.5p.

The worst performer on the benchmark index was the insurer Aviva. News that it had slashed its final dividend by 44 per cent after reporting a £3bn loss sent the shares south – down 45p to 314.8 p.

The FTSE 100 index dipped during the afternoon session on news that the Bank of England would not go for more stimulus, but it closed the day up 11.52 points to 6,439.16.

The shopping centre owner Intu Properties, a blue-chip stock set to be downgraded to the mid-caps on 18 March, has made an £800m bond issue, and the shares added 2.7p to 332.2p.

Meanwhile, back on the mid-cap index, the oil company Ophir Energy was given an upgrade by analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who think that it has addressed its funding gap as well as its drilling programme. Last month Britain's richest man, the Indian steel tycoon and Queens Park Rangers part-owner Lakshmi Mittal, sold half his stake alongside Och-Ziff Capital Management. Merrill gives the shares a 575p price target and the shares added 7.5p to 524.5p.

The defence services group Cobham's chief executive, Bob Murphy, was upbeat, and said the group would turn to profitability next year. The shares added 5.5p to 234.7p.

The packaging firm DS Smith said that it is cautious about its paper division following a continued "poor" performance, and its shares packed in a 9.1p loss to 231.4p.

The Vimto owner Nichols' shares fizzed up 7.75p to 895.5p after it revealed a 13 per cent rise in profits to £20.5m. Brendan Hynes, chief executive of the group which has a licensing deal with Levi Roots for his Reggae Reggae sauce, will step down at its AGM in May. He will be replaced by the managing director of its UK drinks business, Marnie Millard.

AIM-listed Circle Oil revealed positive test results from a well drilled in Egypt but the shares trickled down 0.13p to 18.25p.



Snap up shares in Cineworld, Investec suggests. The broker says the outlook is "positive" for the cinema chain and makes particular mention of the new Imax the business is planning to open in Glasgow this year. This year is also blessed with "no major event interruptions" (think the Olympics). The shares are 277p with a 310p target.



Sell shares in the supermarket Morrisons, analysts insist. Signs of improvement in sales trends is not yet apparent at the supermarket. Barclays analysts say they "expect earnings expectations to continue to drip downwards" following next week's results. They add: "Share price support from the £1bn buyback is also likely to end imminently – and we do not expect a fuller balance sheet review for another six months." They give a 240p price target for shares that are 259p, and retain their underweight rating.


Avocet Mining

Hang on to shares in Avocet, Canaccord Genuity recommends, giving the mining business a price target of 40p for shares which are presently 23.5p a pop. The broker says that although Avocet has taken a $135m writedown on the Inata asset, "it is most likely to be seeking equity finance shortly".

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