Small Talk: Max Property gives Aim the feelgood factor

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The Independent Online

*There was a time when a new IPO on the Aim market wouldn't raise a flicker of interest. The London Stock Exchange would hardly mark the occasion, save for counting the revenues and inviting the next tiny oil and gas explorer, or mirco-cap biotech group through the front door. A suitcase full of investors' cash was mandatory.

Max Property's £220m listing last week, which was trailed in this column a couple of weeks ago, was the first primary listing to raise cash on Aim this year and was greeted with so much fanfare (and no doubt relief) that the LSE felt compelled to send out a press release: "I am delighted to welcome Max Property Group to Aim," said Marcus Stuttard, the head of Aim. "This admission demonstrates that despite difficult global market conditions our markets remain very much open for business," he added, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In fairness to Aim, Max Property's IPO is a notable success, but perhaps the biggest advert for the market's longer-term viability was the announcement last week that the Tokyo Aim has been awarded a licence by the Japanese Financial Services Authority.

The London market is in the midst of its biggest crisis since it launched in 1995, and yet despite delistings continuing apace, weak liquidity and a lack of appetite for IPOs, the blueprint is being copied. The London Stock Exchange concedes that it could be some time before small-cap Japanese companies are trading, but the first steps have been taken with the rules for nominated advisers, or Nomads, being drawn up.

The LSE says the market in Tokyo will operate in a similar way to the UK version: most notably the Nomads will be given responsibility for advising client companies on requirements for listing. There will be differences, however, with retail investors likely to be barred from buying and selling Tokyo Aim stocks.

No one likes us, not even investors

"No one likes us! We don't care!" they sing on the terraces at Millwall. The football club's fans are chanting about supporters of other clubs, but they could as well be singing about investors, given the movement of the club's Alternative Investment Market (Aim)-listed holding company's stock last week. Shares in Millwall Holdings spiked when the club reached the dizzy heights of the League One play-off final, but having lost out to Scunthorpe United at Wembley last week, the stock tumbled back to just under 2p, from a high of 6p.

The group suffered another blow last week when executive deputy-chairman Heather Rabbatts stepped down to take up the chairmanship of Shed Media. Investors should expect little improvement in the stock soon, but another push for promotion next season might help....

Agriterra finds its way through African maize

There seems to be little to connect an oil and gas exploration company operating in southern Sudan, and an agricultural group in Mozambique... unless it is the same company. Sudanese oil explorer White Nile was floated at 10p a share in 2005 during the real boom years of Aim, reaching more than 100p before the Aim market was engulfed by credit crunchery and the shares plummeted to about 2p.

Having announced a drastic change in strategy last October, White Nile morphed into Agriterra earlier this year following the acquisition of a 75 per cent stake in each of Desenvolvimento e Comercializacao Agricola Limitada (Deca), Compagri Limitada and Mozbife Limitada, the Mozambique agricultural trading, processing and ranching companies. Agriterra took control of Deca's site in Chimoio, which has been in operation since 2005 and has the capacity to process 50,000 tons of maize each year.

Agriterra last week revealed that it is set to open a second site in Tete, with chief executive Andrew Groves saying: "The opening of the Tete facility should contribute significantly to our operational and financial performance. By replicating the success of our Chimoio operation we can... become a leading agrioperation in southern and central Africa."