Small Companies Notebook: Avanti makes progress towards a bigger prize

Monkton powers up - Goodbye Hansard - Ragusa deal hopes - Ladder firm climbing - NSB fans bullish
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The Independent Online

Investors should keep an eye on shares of Avanti Screenmedia. The company installs video systems in bars and shops for entertainment and marketing purposes. Tomorrow, it will boast of two new contract wins, both with pub companies. The first, with Eldridge Pope, will see Avanti install its system in 27 of the group's pubs; the second, with Modern British Taverns, is smaller.

Investors should keep an eye on shares of Avanti Screenmedia. The company installs video systems in bars and shops for entertainment and marketing purposes. Tomorrow, it will boast of two new contract wins, both with pub companies. The first, with Eldridge Pope, will see Avanti install its system in 27 of the group's pubs; the second, with Modern British Taverns, is smaller.

Word has it that an altogether bigger prize may be just around the corner for the company. Avanti is believed to be in the process of trying to persuade Boots to take on its video system. The retailing giant is presently piloting it at its Nottingham head office. Analysts predict that should Avanti secure the contract, it will give the group's revenues a substantial boost and will help it convince other retailers to take on the system.

Avanti floated on AIM just last month and thanks to the Eldridge Pope and British Taverns contracts, it is already ahead of target when it comes to new business wins in the pubs sector.

Monkton powers up

For those investors worried about the effects on our environment of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, buying in to Monkton could be the answer.

The group is due to float on Ofex, the lightly regulated stock market, tomorrow. It gives environmentally conscious investors the opportunity to put their cash into a company which claims to be the UK's leading supplier of 100 per cent renewable electricity.

Monkton believes that the way we currently generate electricity is a major cause of the climate change that is disrupting our environment. It is convinced that switching to renewable electricity is the answer. "We believe our investors want to help make a difference," says Monkton, which successfully concluded a fund raising in July and so boasts more than 1,000 shareholders, the large majority of whom are also customers.

Goodbye Hansard

As of Thursday, Hansard Group, the City PR firm, is to be know as Financial Development Corporation. On that day, the AIM-listed group also completed a £6m fund raising, partly backed by Terry Ramsden, the millionaire investor and horse racing enthusiast, and also subdivided its stock, giving shareholders 10 new shares for every one old share.

So, you may ask, where now for FDC? It has already been rumoured that it is in talks to buy fellow PR firm Holborn, run by the veterans John and David Bick. But it seems that FDC's ambitions go further than the PR game.

Word has it the group is looking at a move into stockbroking. FDC is said to be in the process of pinching a small team of brokers from an existing firm with which to start a small firm. Stockbroking is unlikely to hold any surprises for Adam Reynolds, FDC's chief executive. That is where his Square Mile career kicked off.

Ragusa deal hopes

The cash shell Ragusa Capital floated just over a month ago at 54p and immediately closed at an impressive 77.5p on its maiden session as investors bet on the company being a winner. Since then the stock has drifted back, closing at 67p on Friday, but diehard fans of the company believe a significant deal is on the way. They reckon Ragusa is eyeing a major oil services acquisition in Russia and will fund it by the issue of new shares.

Ragusa is the brainchild of John Martin, a former City trader and horse racing addict - no surprise therefore that the company is named after an Irish Derby winner. Although the group raised just £5m with its float, Mr Martin is intent on turning Ragusa into a sizeable international conglomerate of the Lonrho/Hanson ilk.

Ladder firm climbing

Those readers who followed this column's advice in March and placed a bet on HC Slingsby will have done very well. Back then, shares in the Bradford-based ladder maker traded at 650p. On Friday, they closed at 1,050p. Despite the impressive performance by the shares, those willing to sit tight should enjoy further rewards as the company remains remarkably good value.

It presently has a stock market capitalisation of a mere £10.5m but boasts cash in the bank of £4.3m, and an extensive property portfolio which has not had a revaluation since the 1950s. To add to this, the group is tipped to make a profit of £2.2m in the current year, up from £1.2m last time around. This leaves Slingsby trading at just 10 times expected earnings. Readers should not underestimate the company's growth prospects. Slingsby recently unveiled an expansion into Ireland which, combined with the upturn the group is experiencing in its existing business, looks set to drive profits growth for some time to come.

NSB fans bullish

NSB Retail, which provides specialist software to the retail sector, has arranged a series of meetings with brokers and analysts after its interim results on Friday.

Bulls of the stock believe this can mean only one thing - that the results will make pleasant reading. "If NSB's figures were poor you would hardly gather people to broadcast it," one supporter argues. We will find out on Friday.

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