Small Talk: The art of a divi bonus

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The Independent Online

For those who think that thespians might not naturally make tremendously good business people, think again. After a rather ambitious and subsequently unsuccessful bid to break the American market, Stagecoach Theatre Arts, which operates the UK's biggest franchise network of performing arts schools for teenagers, is back on its feet. No doubt the schools' literature will boast that past students have gone on to act in films such as Billy Elliot and programmes like Dr Who, but hard-nosed investors would be more interested in the numbers. On Wednesday, the group will be breaking legs all over the place before announcing full-year numbers, including confirmation that pre-tax profits are 20 per cent to 25 per cent above the £530,000 estimate made in February. After deciding not to pay a dividend for the last few years, the group will say it will start paying out to shareholders again.

Football investors get a Brum deal

Several years ago, a number of football clubs thought it would be a great wheeze to become listed companies: raise lots of money in the stock market, they thought, spend it all on the best talent and whoosh, 'ere we go up the league. Simple. Well, no, not that simple. Several clubs have had a pretty bad experience and in some cases the stock is worth next to nothing: you can buy a share in all-conquering Millwall for just 0.0155p.

One thing shareholders hate to see happen is for any comp-any to lose a significant source of income. Sadly, at the end of last season that is what AIM-listed Birmingham City managed to do by getting relegated from the Premier League. To make matters worse, the club attempted the latest football craze by trying to entice a very rich person to buy out existing shareholders, in this case Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung. Unfortunately, the deal fell through.

The new football season began on Saturday with Birmingham City starting its campaign to get back to the Premier League (with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United). The drop from football's top flight will prove to be costly, not least because in order to get back it needs better players who are both expensive and unwilling to downgrade to the Championship. Despite the £12m or so of parachute payments that relegated clubs are entitled to, the next year will be tough on Birmingham City's coffers.

Intelligence goes missing

There are some pretty big companies on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Access Intelligence is certainly not one of them, with its market capitalisation of just £1.8m. Indeed, the group has become a lot smaller during the course of the last 12 months by doing something that investors might not consider to be too intelligent at all: it has lost more than 60 per cent of its value.

But never fear, a strategic review is in place and that will no doubt make everything better. After announcing interim post-tax losses of £96,000 last Wednesday, worse than the £71,000 this time last year, there is likely to be quite a lot of news about this AIM tiddler in the coming months.

Access's chairman, Jeremy Hamer, is refreshingly honest about his assessment of the company's progress since listing five years ago, conceding that it is guilty of biting off a bit more than it was capable of chewing. It has therefore decided to flog off its storage and archiving businesses. Discussions with a single party are "advanced," says Mr Hamer, who adds that the move came after the company "recognised that it could not continue on all fronts."

The sale will leave Access Intelligence with what it thinks are its key divisions: software as a service, including an e-procurement arm that allows public sector buyers to source goods from a subscriber list and its compliance software arm, which is mostly sold to financial services groups.

PetroLatina sets itself a 100-day test

Newspapers all over the place have developed an increasing annoying habit of assessing a politician's performance 100 days into a new job. Usually it marks the end of a honeymoon period and from then on the politician in question can assume that voters will have forgotten they ever backed him.

The 100 days thing is catching, it seems. PetroLatina, the Latin American exploration and production company, has announced that it is set to embark on a 100-day drilling campaign at its fields in Colombia from October, when nine new wells are planned. The hope, obviously, is to increase the company's existing output from 1,000 bpd.

Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the new chief executive, has a bit of added pressure, however. The Colombian private equity group Tribeca injected $25m (£13m) into the group in May for a 35 per cent stake. It is the buyout firm's cash that is paying for the drilling and, as with all private equity investors, it will be expecting results.

South China's goal is coal

Much like Parisians in Aug-ust, South China Resources, the AIM-listed miner, has decided that as the world descends on Beijing, now is probably a good time to get away for a bit. Lucky then that last week the group announced that its South African subsidiary has bought 100 per cent of the Vlakplaats coal mining prospecting rights from Universal Pulse Trading for $25m. It also picked up a more speculative 35 per cent stake in the Camden coal site from Continental Coal for less than $1m.

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