Smaller Companies: Development Securities is set to take off

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The Independent Online
THIS week's acquisition of a pounds 92m portfolio by Development Securities is the culmination of the first stage in the stock market return of property entrepreneur Martin Landau.

Since he and partner Anthony Bodie bought into Clayform Properties in June last year, the former owner of the Stead & Simpson shoe chain has done all it promised.

They entered a company that had only survived the recession by the skin of its teeth and have turned it round in rapid order. Since they came aboard, its asset base has increased eightfold.

It is a promising start but the market will be watching closely now to see whether Mr Landau can have as much success in the current property cycle as he had in the last one.

The acquisition of 17 properties with an annual rent roll of pounds 7.3m, bringing net assets to pounds 83m, completes DS's short- term aim of creating a medium-sized group. It provides income to cover interest payments and means that a return to the dividend list is likely this year.

The deal was financed by a 3-for-10 placing and open offer at 30p, the third such cash call since the arrival of the new team last summer.

That level of fund-raising was flagged at the time of the buy-in and Robert Ware, finance director, said this week that he had assured institutions that the company would not be tapping the market again for at least 12 months.

The first of the previous two placings, in July last year, paid off debts while the second, in December, was used to buy two portfolios, bringing in a total of 95 properties.

But the creation of a sizeable investment portfolio is really only the first step in the company's growth. Martin Landau is no ordinary rent-collector and it is his expertise in property development that will make or break the company.

Investors who have stumped up for the three cash-raising exercises have done so largely because they remember his success in the late 1980s when he built up City Merchant Developers, merged it with Imry and sold out to a consortium of private investors in 1989 for pounds 314m.

The subsequent collapse of the company forced Barclays, chief lender to the consortium, to make its biggest write-off on a single loan. Mr Landau, meanwhile, was enjoying his reported pounds 25m share of the proceeds in the South of France.

Shareholders will also be aware that the development cycle is finally picking up again after years in the doldrums and may be pleasantly surprised within the next few weeks if negotiations on two large sites near Chester and Birmingham come to fruition.

Development of the larger of the two sites, near the National Exhibition Centre, seems likely this year with discussions on a pre-let understood to be at an advanced stage.

The Chester site has great potential, with infrastructure works on a planned retail warehouse development and possible residential planning consent on more than half of its 79 acres providing the excitement.

Following Mr Landau's acquisition of 5 per cent of the company for 14p last June the share price jumped to 35p. Since then it has fluctuated between 30p and 45p, now resting at the bottom of the range.

That represents a modest premium to net assets at the last year-end of 30p and reflects an understandable desire by the stock market to wait and see how events unfold. But with net assets forecast to grow to 35p by the end of the year and 45p by December 1995, and with the threat of further share issues lifted, the price may not languish for long.

(Photograph omitted)