Small Talk: Big claims from a small coal miner

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The Independent Online

The award for the most outlandish claim of the week goes to Alternative Investment Market (AIM)-listed coal miner Strategic Natural Resources (SNR). The group has issued a press release stating that it was "the coal group positioned to help ease South Africa's long-term energy crisis," adding that it "has taken a major step towards full-scale coal production at its Elitheni deposit near Indwe in the Eastern Cape."

Great stuff, and many rounds of applause, etc, to SNR. Except that it has only just started actually producing anything. Its ambitions once the current blasting programme is complete is to enable the open-cast extraction of some 50,000 tonnes of coal.

South Africans will no doubt cheer SNR's efforts at easing their energy crisis, which has indeed led to shortages. However, given that in 2004 alone the country consumed 195 million short tons of coal in power generation, according to US official statistics, SNR's welcome efforts may not do much more than scratch the surface.

The group's sites are at Elitheni, where it is reopening abandoned mines that were closed as being uneconomical at the time. As demand for power has increased, and technology has improved, the mines have become viable again.

In fairness to SNR, it does have prospecting rights over 37,000 hectares, with applications in for another 30,000, and eventually thinks it will control a measured coal reserve of more than 25 million tonnes. This will genuinely help the situation when it is eventually used, although there are no firm plans as to when the coal might be mined.

TT's new chief exec revs up for change

It's been a hive of activity at TT Electronics in recent months. The group, which among many other things supplies sensors to BMW so that your car tells you that you are about to reverse into the next door's garage, has its interim results out tomorrow.

The numbers are expected to be steady rather than spectacular, although the real attention will be on Geraint Anderson, right, who was named as chief executive this month after the group's previous sup-remo, Neil Rogers, was ousted.

The group has been busy since the new boss took charge. Last week, it announced that it has coughed up £9.8m for Samelab, a company that produces specialist radio frequency and power semiconductors.

And while it would be fair to say that TT Electronics is finding the going tough when it comes to the automotive industry, along with other groups in that sector, the buyout of Samelab will be a boost to other areas of the company, particularly its aerospace and defence divisions. As a result of all the money being spent in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, a move to defence supplies in particular will be especially welcome among investors and analysts.

Keystone to drill in Kurdish region

Another group concerned with goings-on in Iraq is Aim-listed Keystone Petroleum, which has decided that it is now safe enough to pursue a drilling programme in the northern Kurdistani region of the country.

The group, along with its bedfellow in the region, Kalegran, is all set for a drilling programme that will take place not far from the town of Ebril, which used to be one of Saddam Hussein's favourite pillaging spots.

Keystone has arranged for the specialist drilling group Weatherford Drilling International to supply a rig for at least two wells, with the option for three more. The rig, which will cost at least $10m, is being shipped in from Houstonand will start drilling early next year.

Ambitious Altona taps into China

It seems that China is in vogue, whether it is the Olympics, or just companies trying to get a slice of the huge amount of cash the country's investors have sloshing around.

The latest beneficiary is Altona Resources, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with CNOOC Energy, a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the third biggest of China's public oil groups.

The agreement is pretty useful to both parties. Altona reckons it has the potential to develop what it calls its Arckaringa project in South Australia, which, it says, has the potential to generate 10 million barrels a year of coal to liquids fuel.

While there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, given that Altona has a market capitalisation of just over £11m, and shares worth a tick more than 3p, it is not hard to see why it needed a partner to splash the cash. The Chinese, for their part, are obviously in need of an increasing amount of power and if they can control its supply, even better.

Profits leap 30% at DM but dividend is axed

Last week was a good one for Aim-listed DM, the direct marketing firm that specialises in "customer recruitment and database management".

Despite the doom and gloom among most consumer groups, the comp-any announced that its pre-tax profits were up 30 per cent. And while that only equated to earnings of £2.7m, the market was evidently excited, with the shares jumping 10 per cent.

But investors in the group might be a little narked. Despite the impressive numbers, DM announced a "temporary suspension" of the dividend, pending the outcome of a "strategic review". The company says it is undervalued and is looking at ways to "maximise shareholder value".

Backers might be forgiven for arguing that paying a dividend when a profit is being made would help.