Small Talk: Staffline recruits Taskforce to boost growth prospects


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The jobs market is in the doldrums – though you wouldn't know it from the recent results put out by Staffline. The Aim-listed recruiter, which specialises in finding blue-collar workers for companies in the food processing, manufacturing, logistics and electronic retail sectors, reported half-yearly revenues of nearly £121m earlier this month, up 45 per cent on 2010, with £2.9m in pre-tax profits, up 38 per cent.

Staffline is not your average recruiter, and does more than simply sourcing staff for clients. The key driver is the company's "Onsite" platform, which allows customers to effectively outsource their staffing functions, although, again, it goes beyond the sort of straightforward contacting that that tag implies.

If you sign up, Staffline, which is focused on temporary staffing, puts one of its team in on site at your factory. This team acts as the link between you and the recruiter, monitoring and anticipating your staffing needs, and making sure that everyone is trained and up to speed when it comes to health and safety, and other norms. The idea is that, instead of you having to call up every time you need staff, the Onsite team takes charge of the HR function.

So, if you're especially busy over Christmas, the Staffline team will have the right people lined up when you need them. And, as mentioned before, Staffline will also ensure that they are trained and know how you work, saving time and increasing productivity. The platform was launched in 2002, and now makes up nearly 90 per cent of revenues.

Shortly after last week's results, the company also announced a deal to buy Taskforce Recruitment. The acquisition of the Peterborough-based recruiter, revealed on Friday, is part of Staffline's strategy of seeking bolt on deals to boost both its customer base and the breath of its revenues.

Taskforce provides temporary staff to a number of blue chips and local authorities throughout the East Midlands. It fits with Staffline's areas of expertise, with activities spanning various industrial sectors including logistics and food. There is, however, no overlap of customers. Analysts were pleased with the move, with Joe Brent at Liberum Capital welcoming the addition of a "stable and attractive business". Others agreed, with Jonathan Dighé at Charles Stanley saying: "Staffline management have an enviable track record for value-enhancing acquisitions and TFR appears to be no exception, with the company guiding to break even this year and enhance earnings in 2012."

Sparkling returns for gold fund

Investing in miners is perhaps the most straightforward way for ordinary punters to build up an exposure to the goings on in the gold market. But there are alternatives, such as the one presented by London-listed Golden Prospect Precious Metals, an investment fund run by New City Investment Managers.

As the name suggests, the fund invests in companies that deal in gold and other precious metals. It had 38 holdings at the end of August, including one in the FTSE 100-listed silver producer Fresnillo.

Last week, against the backdrop of continued strength in precious metals prices, Golden Prospect announced details of a one-for-two bonus issue of subscription shares for all shareholders of the company. Alongside, it also unveiled plans for a placing of new shares to raise up to £115m in gross proceeds.

The extra cash will strengthen the fund, and will be invested in line with Golden Prospect's policy of seeking attractive opportunities in the precious metals sector.

Thus far, the fund has done rather well, with its net asset value up by nearly 250 per cent in the period running from the start of 2009 to the start of September this year, outperforming the gains in the gold price in sterling terms.

Unsurprisingly, then, the fund has garnered some strong support in the City. A recent circular from Singer Capital Markets, for instance, came with some very positive comment, with analyst Charlie Long lauding Golden Prospect as a "superb way" of harnessing the expected rebound in gold equities, which haven't done quite as well as the gold price.

"Gold equities, once regarded as a geared play on the gold price, continue to underperform physical gold," he said. "While we recognise gold equities and gold bullion are different markets, with different participants, we believe that sustained high gold prices will result in substantial cash generation for producers and a sector re-rating."

Gold Prospect, he added, boasted a strong record in this regard. "Its excellent investment strategy continues to deliver and it comfortably remains the top fund, open or closed, in our global peer group, while it is also massively outperforming the UK, US and global gold equity benchmarks."

Mr Long's counterpart at Canaccord Genuity, Paul Locke, made a similar point earlier this month. He also heaped praise on John Wong, Golden Prospect's lead fund manager. A chartered accountant by training, Mr Wong has previously held investment roles at Ruffer and Rosthschild Asset Management.

"John Wong has proved consistently over the last three years his ability to generate excess returns," Mr Locke gushed in a note to clients. "Not only has he outpaced the strong surge in the price of gold over this period, but he has also outperformed (by some margin) growth in the main, larger cap equity indices in the precious metals sector."

Ubisense readies maiden results

Ubisense, the Cambridge-based technology company that we featured when it made its market debut in July, is due to post its maiden set of half yearly results tomorrow. The business, whose real-time location systems allow to companies to keep track of production lines, is expected to put in a decent performance, according to the analysts at its house broker Canaccord Genuity.

They expect to hear of £10.7m in first-half revenues, with £300,000 in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Ubisense, which also makes systems to track fixed assets for utilities and phone companies, is also likely to issue a strong outlook, according to Canaccord, which pointed to "promising long-term growth drivers".

The broker reckons that the real time location business, in particularly, has "large, untapped growth potential". "IDTechEx, a consultancy forecasts the real time location systems market to grow 56 per cent to $665m in 2012," it said.

Smart businesses up for awards, the website for small business owners and entrepreneurs, and the mobile network O2 announced their list of the 100 most enterprising small businesses earlier this month. The list has since been opened to up to the public – it's on the Smarta site – which will crown the overall winner.

Together, the companies have notched up revenues of more than £65m, with an average turnover of nearly £700,000. Among the firms featured is the retailer Toy Barn Haus, which was set up by Mark Buschhaus and Stephen Barnes, who used their redundancy pay-off from Woolworths to set up the company. Today, it boasts three stores in Crawley, Epsom and Redhill and is on track to turnover £1.4m this year. Get your vote in by tomorrow to give your choice the chance of winning £10,000.