Small Companies Notebook: Low-cost Angel Bourse swoops on Ofex territory

Lonrho revival - Page flotation - Urban acquisition - Oak signs up tenants - St Helen's success
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The Independent Online

Given its recent financial troubles, the last thing Ofex needs is greater competition. But this is exactly what the lightly-regulated stock exchange could face when Angel Bourse, a small private equity house, today launches its own low-cost share-trading platform.

And by low-cost, Angel Bourse really means low-cost. To gain admission to the platform a company will have to pay a fee of just £7,000, compared with £150,000 to list on Ofex and £500,000 for AIM. The ongoing running costs associated with a quote on the platform are also drastically less than the alternatives. Per annum, it will cost a company only £5,000 while for Ofex the bill comes to £70,000 and for AIM £250,000.

Although Angel Bourse stresses that its trading service is not trying to compete with Ofex, it is difficult to tell the two apart, leaving one wondering why the stark difference in price?

The Angel Bourse platform will be FSA regulated, operate a matched bargain trading system and hopes to act as a stepping stone to more senior exchanges. So far it has attracted four companies but aims to expand to more than 50 within the next 12 months. John Blowers, its managing director, insisted: "Angel Bourse does not seek to challenge any existing markets. We see ourselves as a low-cost feeder facility to showcase high-growth, early-stage businesses to brokers and intermediaries as those companies begin their preparations for graduation to the more expensive senior markets."

So will it eat away at Ofex's business? We will soon find out.

Lonrho revival

Lonrho Africa, once run by the legendary tycoon Tiny Rowland, was back on the radar screen of stock market operators last week as its shares spiked higher. These days, the company is nothing more than an AIM-listed cash shell. The sprawling pan-African empire that Mr Rowland created - including businesses as diverse as luxury hotels, car dealerships and even pig farms - is long gone.

But why the revived interest? A quick look at Lonrho's shareholder register and one sees some pretty high-profile players involved with the company. JO Hambro and the Swedish investor Peter Gyllenhammar both feature in a big way.

The company's financials are less impressive from a distance. It is valued at £21m but its main asset seems to be a cash balance of £6m. This, however, ignores Lonrho's pension fund, which is well into surplus and is the key to the company's hidden value. Some believe it leaves Lonrho shares worth as much as 30p, more than double Friday's close of 13.5p.

Page flotation

Investors should keep an eye out for David Page's name next week too. The man who set up the PizzaExpress chain, and more recently Clapham House, will float a new business vehicle on 27 October. It is to be called Clerkenwell Ventures and Seymour Pierce is putting the finishing touches to a £4m fundraising for the company, which will start life as a cash shell on the hunt for deals.

We all know lots about PizzaExpress, but Mr Page has also enjoyed great success with Clapham House, owner of the Real Greek Souvlaki & Bar and Bombay Bicycle Club chains in London.

Clerkenwell Ventures does not aim to build another restaurant group, we are told. Nor does it want to set up a chain of bars. But we are assured that it will be doing business in the leisure sector, where Mr Page feels most at home.

Urban acquisition

At the end of last month, Urban Dining, where the aforementioned PizzaExpress founder has a 24 per cent stake, asked for its shares to be suspended, saying it was in talks aimed at an acquisition. The company floated on AIM in May as "an investment company formed to acquire businesses in the restaurant sector". Well, word has it Urban has found just such a target company and news of a deal will be made public this week. The acquisition will be quite a size by AIM standards. Peel Hunt is believed to have lined up a £30m equity placing to help finance it.

Oak signs up tenants

Oak Holdings seems to be making progress with its planned £250m leisure park development outside Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The property group hopes to create a 1.25 million square foot complex packed with entertainment and leisure facilities on the site of a former opencast coal mine.

That will not be an easy task but even a 1,000-mile journey must start with the first step and Oak has taken that step. It is believed to have signed three anchor tenants for its project. These include Clear Channel Communications - which wants to build a 2,000-seat theatre complex to stage full-scale West End productions, along with a whole host of other events - and Baydrive Group, which operates golf centres.

St Helen's success

Over on Ofex, results are due from St Helen's Capital, the corporate finance house, this week. We are told the numbers will not disappoint. Investors can expect a near 400 per cent jump in sales, evidence of a strong pipeline of projects and news about the launch of the group's St Helen's Private Equity Fund. About half a million pounds has already been raised for the fund, which aims to bank a further £3m.