The Investment Column: Vantis in demand as companies feel the strain

Holidaybreak; Fuller Smith& Turner


Our view: Buy

Share price: 107p (+7p)

No prizes for guessing who is making money out of the current economic upheaval. Yes, as always in times like these, the corporate morticians are once again in demand. The AIM-listed Vantis is an accountancy and professional services group which, in ordinary times, ticks over nicely, giving advice to small and medium-sized firms and well-off individuals.

There is also a business recovery side helping firms facing bankruptcy and struggling with strained balance sheets. Not surprisingly, this is in overdrive at the moment. Sensible clients, spotting problems early on, are calling in Vantis to see how best to reshuffle debts, slim the business down or, if all else fails, handle the subsequent insolvency. The advisory work is carried out from a network of 18 offices around the country. A number of strategic acquisitions have created the present multi-skilled structure which enables Vantis to cross-sell more services to clients. The aim is to become one of the top 10 advisory groups in the UK.

Group turnover grew 7.5 per cent to £94m in the year to April giving profits after charges of £14.9m, up 8 per cent. While two-thirds of turnover is generated through its business advisory arm, the recovery side was the best performer, increasing turnover by 12 per cent to £19m and handling a number of well-known insolvencies such as the recruitment firm Hat Pin and the betting group BetonSports. The longer period spent on this work puts some strain on working capital but margins are attractive and bad debts negligible.

Other parts of the group specialise in handling investments for high net worth individuals and civil lawsuits involving international arbitration. Despite weaker markets, the corporate finance arm completed more than 80 deals. While merger and acquisition work has slowed, there are opportunities helping clients pick off some weaker competitors while some groups are actively looking at management buy-outs to bring in needed cash.

The market warmed to news of an improvement in cash flow although there was some disappointment that organic revenue growth of 7.3 per cent was not higher. The shares rose 7 per cent with the broker Landsbanki setting a target price of 186p. Buy.

Holidaybreak

Our view: Hold

Share price: 366p (+11.7p)

Holidaybreak, probably by accident rather than design, has emerged as one of the holiday companies most likely to cope with the fall- out from the credit crunch. It is not in the mass market so is spared the hit from thousands of cancelled holidays on foreign beaches.

The group offers a quirky mix of niche holidays which almost, but not quite, look recession-proof. The camping business on which the group was founded offers self-catering mobile homes and tents on well-run sites across Europe.

The group rents the sites and took the decision to reduce capacity by 5 per cent this summer to avoid having to cut prices. Sales are currently up 1 per cent, according to yesterday's update. A typical holiday can cost as little as £300 which should appeal to those on stretched family budgets. There is an adventure division offering diving and trekking holidays for more prosperous travellers undaunted by the prospect of splashing out £3,000 for a trip to one of the world's less-known beauty spots. Here, sales are up a robust 3 per cent.

The acquisition of PGL, a leading school trips organiser, last year, took the group into educational tours and activity holidays catering for around 250,000 children a year. Sales are currently up 9 per cent but there is concern that next winter's ski holidays may suffer from changes to the school holiday dates. The company believes families will continue to dig deep to fund school trips but that seems to take a lot for granted.

One area showing weakness is short hotel breaks in London where sales intake has slowed from 7 per cent to 3 per cent. One explanation is that last year the capital attracted more visitors for exhibitions such as Tutankhamun and the Chinese Terracotta Warriors.

Across the group sales are up 4 per cent, down from 6 per cent in May. The market's verdict, marking up the shares by 11.7 per cent, suggests Holidaybreak is showing encouraging signs of resilience in difficult conditions. Hold.

Fuller Smith& Turner

Our view: Avoid

Share price: 427.5p (+2.5p)

The rate of pub closures is increasing. The sector has been hit by the smoking ban, spending crunch and discounting by supermarkets. Popping down to the local has become an expensive habit. I recently asked Fuller Smith & Turner, famous for London Pride, why a small glass of house wine and pint of lager in my Chiswick local should now cost a staggering £7.10p. The efficient customer service department told me costs were rising, blah blah blah and most customers were happy to pay more to drink in a Fuller's pub. Really? Perhaps someone should ask them.

Anyway Fuller's seems to be surviving the downturn for now. Sales grew 2.7 per cent in its managed pubs in the 16 weeks to July 19. The brewing side also grew against the backdrop of a falling market but no figure was put on the improvement. The shares are off 20 per cent in the past three months and yesterday's update does little to dispel the gloom especially as Fuller's admits consumers are feeling the squeeze. There are fears the local is an endangered species. Even a well-run brewer like Fuller's has nowhere to hide in current conditions. Avoid.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone