Small Talk: Imprint battle wide open as Hydrogen runs out of gas

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The Independent Online

The takeover saga of recruitment group Imprint was scheduled to end this Friday, when the company's board was set to recommend a bid from rival Hydrogen at an extraordinary general meeting.

That was until another rival, Premier, launched a better offer at the last minute, and as if to confirm the seriousness of the bid, it scooped up 25.62 per cent of the group. This comes as a blow to Hydrogen, which is no longer the preferred bidder, and opens up the field to other suitors, notably OPD, the first group to try to buy Imprint – for 180p a share, which was later withdrawn – last summer.

In truth, Premier's 115p-a-share offer, which values the company at £45.2m, did not come as a surprise to anyone and analysts reckon that the firm is now in the box seat, and at that price, "they're nicking it," said one.

The drawn-out battle for Imprint dates back more than 12 months to when the company issued a profits warning putting others on notice that the jewel in the Imprint crown, Morgan McKinley, a banking and finance consultancy with large operations in Asia, could be prised away.

But the fact that Premier now appears to be winning leaves a few loose ends. Analysts at Seymour Pierce think that Imprint's shares have the potential to improve; they have fallen from 303.75p on 20 February last year to a close of 111.25p on Friday.

This might be why a group such as RAB Capital, the second biggest investor in the now-nationalised Northern Rock, twice upped its stake in the group last week, first to 7.51 per cent and then to 9.27 per cent.

OPD, the initial bidder, also stands to gain, despite now looking as though its ambitions to buy Imprint will be frustrated. The group already owns more than 28 per cent, which it bought at 180p a share to support its bid last summer. Having crystallised its loss, analysts at Seymour Pierce believe it can now play the role of a "nuisance shareholder" and, like others, would benefit from an improvement in Imprint's share price.

Given the worries about the economy, it is likely that 2008 will not be a great year for recruitment groups, but one thing several analysts agree on is that finally getting to the end of the takeover battle for Imprint will be no bad thing for the company and should put an end to senior departures and a great amount of uncertainty.

EuroTrust

The winds of change are blowing for the Danish group EuroTrust, almost literally. The group, which posts its annual results today, is in the process of selling off its property interests and concentrating full time on its other occupation, wind farms.

This is a sensible move, say analysts: the company has a long track record in wind, it is well positioned in the market with several strong investments, and getting out of the property market is probably not a bad idea at the moment.

Indeed, the analysts believe that the company's share price, which has languished in the last few months, will recover from the move. Those at Kaup-thing think that EuroTrust is in a "special situation" and that the value of its shares, which closed at 3.075p on Friday, is linked to the European property market and can only improve as the group sells off its portfolio, albeit into a choppy sector.

Wind is not without its risks. Planning permission has to be sought for new sites, and in countries like the UK that can be tricky. But the group has interests in Spain, where authorisation is easier to come by, and in Italy, where good tariffs are available.

According to analysts, EuroTrust will use the revenues it generates from the sale of its property portfolio to invest in new wind projects. Most think this is a sound plan, despite there being a concern that the group has not picked the best time to do this and that development costs in new projects are not prohibitive as a result.

Molectra hopes recycled tyres will turn the odds in its favour

Tyres are, perhaps, not the first thing to come to mind when thinking about horses, but clearly for those at Molectra, a subsidiary of the AIM-listed Greenhouse Fund, it is an interesting business.

Since 2000, the company has been recycling disused tyres with the aim of turning them into something useful, albeit at a loss so far. But now they have won a contract to supply the equine market with materials to make things such as artificial race tracks, which the group hopes will make it a profitable enterprise. At the very least, it expects that the company will break even this year, for the first time.

According to the firm, about 1.2 billion waste tyres are generated each year and only a fraction of this amount is currently recycled. The vast majority of this enormous waste still ends up in landfills or stockpiles.

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