Small Talk: Eckoh chair proposal does not sit well with OCS

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The Independent Online

Just as things were starting to go well for Alternative Investment Market (AIM)-listed Eckoh, everybody appears to be falling out.

We reported in this column a few weeks ago that the group that makes speech-recognition software had turned a corner and was all set to announce a maiden profit, which it duly did. The shares are up 40 per cent in the past month alone and everything seemed to be going swimmingly.

As with many AIM-listed groups, however, the company appears to have taken a gun and aimed directly at its own feet.

Last week, the company's biggest shareholder, OCS Trading, called an extraordinary general meeting, objecting at the board's proposal for the chairmanship. On the face of it, Christopher Batterham looks pretty well-qualified: a chartered accountant by training who has plenty of experience as both an executive and non-executive director of publicly listed companies. He is presently a director of seven different companies.

In truth, it is difficult to know if Mr Batterham is any good at all, but what is known is that OCS Trading is keen that he should not get his hands on the reins of Eckoh.

We are also in the dark about quite what OCS Trading's beef is, as the company did not return our calls.

OCS Trading owns about 12 per cent of the stock and is keen to install its own candidate, John Samuel, in the job of chairman. The battle is expected to take place in mid-September.

Using words such as "mystified", "inexplicable" and "disappointing", Eckoh's finance director, Adam Moloney, says that Eckoh's board is in the dark as to why OCS Trading has called the EGM, guessing that it can only be sour grapes after Mr Samuel was overlooked for a non-executive board seat recently. He adds that of the group's major shareholders he has spoken to, all are supportive of Mr Batterham's appointment.

Clearly, that does not include OCS Trading, but we will all have to wait until September to find out what happens next.

Dwyka finds rich seam in troubled Minerva's African assets

The small-cap mining sector is rapidly dividing into two groups. Those with enough cash to survive on their own, and those that have the assets but not enough money to do anything with them (there is of course a third group that have neither, but the less said about them the better).

This has been well exemplified by AIM-listed Dwyka Resources' takeover of Minerva. The all-paper deal saw Dwyka hold more than 80 per cent of Minerva's stock by the end of last week, and this is expected to exceed 90 per cent this week. Minerva was delisted last Thursday.

It is a good deal for Dwyka and gives it rights over two gold exploration licences and one platinum mining licence in Ethiopia.

Its chief executive Melissa Sturgess says the company has looked at more than 40 companies in the last few months and, perhaps more importantly for the market, is prepared to call the bottom of the equity market for small-cap mining stocks.

"Minerva had run out of capital, but has some high-quality assets that we think will really benefit us." she said.

"We acted now because we feel that prices have probably reached the floor, and frankly we are a little bit surprised that there has not yet been more consolidation activity."

All Leisure share price becalmed

You might expect investors to get that sinking feeling when a company says the market is "very challenging" and that selling prices are between 10 per cent and 15 per cent lower.

However, that did not knock All Leisure group off course last week.

Roger Allard, the group's chairman, says the cruise holiday company has been sailing in calmer waters since the turn of the year. He surprised the market last week by announcing that it was paying an unexpected interim dividend. Sadly for Mr Allard and the rest of All Leisure's shareholders, news of the dividend did not so much as budge the company's share price, which has fallen by more than 50 per cent over the last 12 months.

Mr Allard suggests that investors have little money and that many have faced cash calls in the last year.