Small Talk: SuperGroup explores listing options

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The Independent Online

If you are cool, trendy and hip, then the chances are that you shop at Superdry. If you're not, and you spend more time worrying about the Alternative Investment Market (Aim), have no fear because you'll know all about the clothing retailer before too long.

The group's parent company, the rather shamelessly named SuperGroup, is gearing up to take advantage of its popularity on the high street and is looking to list in the not-too distant future. There are no details yet on how much the group is hoping to raise, or indeed when it will come to the market, but watch this space.

SuperGroup is already making plans, however. Last week it appointed City sage Peter Bamford as its new chairman. Mr Bamford has a wealth of experience when it comes to running publicly listed companies, with executive positions at giants such as Vodafone, Tesco and Kingfisher already under his belt.

At Vodafone, where he held senior jobs for nine years, he served as a regional chief executive responsible for the group's operations and investments in nine countries, and as chief marketing officer responsible for the full range of marketing and commercial activities. Currently, he is a non-executive of the rat killers, Rentokil Initial.

"I am delighted to have been given such an exciting opportunity," Mr Bamford said of his latest role. "SuperGroup is one of the fastest-growing UK, international and internet retailers. I am very impressed with what the company has achieved and I look forward to working with my new colleagues to realise its huge potential."

Indeed, there was admiration in all directions, including from the group's founding partner and chief executive, Julian Dunkerton: "It is a great privilege to have someone of Peter's calibre joining us. His global outlook and vast experience at the highest levels will be invaluable as we move through this exciting new phase of our development."

PLUS Market

For the last couple of weeks, Small Talk has spent time discussing the health of Aim in light of the various data published to coincide with the start of the New Year.

Even though conditions have relaxed somewhat in recent months, and the opportunity for fundraising has markedly increased, 2009 will nonetheless go down as a largely forgettable year for the principle small-cap exchange.

Aim was not the only sufferer. PLUS, which is its main competitor for listed small caps, described its own performance last year as "steady, in a year characterised by difficult market conditions".

The exchange said that it had 30 applications to join the exchange throughout last year, with 18 companies successfully gaining a listing. The last two, HealthyDays and Wessex Exploration, which have market capitalisations of £3m and £5m respectively, joined PLUS in December.

"2009 was an exceptionally difficult year, but we saw continued momentum and good levels of activity on the exchange's primary markets," Paul Haddock, PLUS's head of capital markets, said. "We're optimistic for the coming year as PLUS continues to broaden and develop its primary market offering and work alongside issuers and advisers to facilitate the admission of new companies, as well as non-standard instruments."

What the press release last week did not say, however, was that 45 companies left the index last year. And the index was unable to provide a total for the amount raised throughout 2009.

If small-caps are the bread and butter of the UK economy, it will be interesting to see how the PLUS market fares this year, as the economy starts to recover.

Avocet Mining

It is not just Spandau Ballet that have been singing about gold for the last 12 months.

As the price of the yellow metal has vaulted over the $1000 (£626) an ounce mark, exploration groups and investors have been singing about it too.

Avocet Mining, a group that has its mining operations in South-East Asia and West Africa, is one of the biggest companies on Aim with a market capitalisation of £170m.

Last Friday the group issued its 2009 production report saying that it produced 25,877 ounces in the three months to the end of December, beating analysts' expectations. "The Inata [a mine in Burkina Faso] ramp-up is progressing well and we remain focused on reaching design capacity in a timely and sustainable manner," chief executive Jonathan Henry said. "The last quarter was challenging for Penjom [in Malaysia] and North Lanut [in Indonesia] but both continued to generate cash margins in excess of $300 an ounce, helping to underpin commissioning costs of our new mine in West Africa and further work on our exploration and development portfolio in both regions."

Despite the numbers, Avocet's shares slipped marginally on Friday. It appears that the problem is the group's cost of production. Analysts at Evolution Securities pointed out: "Costs ballooned again to $766 an ounce on an all-in basis, from a reduced $638 an ounce in the previous quarter. We had hoped that the group was getting costs back under control from earlier problems and issues but it appears that lower grades, higher maintenance costs and other factors meant that this was not the case."