Still hot after the winter sales

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The Independent Online
The Omens look good for buoyant January sales. Goldsmiths, the jewellers, sent the first frisson of delight through the sector last week as it reported like-for-like sales up 9.8 per cent over the four- week Yuletide period. And next week will see the start of a flood of trading announcements from the big guns, including Dixons, Sears and Argos.

A key feature of the shares recommended below is that they should prove good investments when the snow is long gone.

Body Shop International, at 201.5p, is an excellent example. It has near-saturation coverage of the UK market and its products make ideal gifts all year round. If Christmas has seen a buying frenzy, it will certainly give the shares a short-term fillip. The real Body Shop story, however, is the Far East which will soon be generating more than half the group's profits. John Richards, of brokers NatWest Markets, expects Far East profits to reach pounds 15m in 1996-97, against pounds 10.8m last year, pounds 5.6m the year before and just pounds 2.4m before that.

In effect, he says, the Far East, led by Japan, is now showing the explosive growth Body Shop achieved in the 1980s in the UK market. He forecasts earnings per share reaching 12.5p this year followed by 14.9p and 17.2p. That implies a p/e multiple falling towards the low teens for shares in a company that, after several years in the doldrums, is starting to look exciting again.

Another firm with great prospects is Majestic Wine Warehouses. Newly floated on the Alternative Investment Market, the shares have already roared ahead to 260p from 160p, but look capable of going even higher. A key attraction is the quality of top management led by John Apthorp (who founded frozen food chain Bejam) and chief executive Tim How. Stores are typically sited on main roads with good parking facilities and have grown in number from 38 in 1991 - when Majestic merged with Mr Apthorp's Wizard business - to 61 after a recent new opening in Mayfair.

Strong like-for-like growth at the original chain, plus new stores and tight control of central costs have all fuelled a sharp improvement in profitability. In the last two years margins have more than doubled to 3.1 per cent, helping operating profits grow from pounds 449,000 for the year to the end of March 1994 to pounds 1.24m in 1995-96.

Mr How believes margins can reach 5 per cent in the medium term as the number of stores grows to 140. Anything like that achievement is going to increase significantly sales, profits and the share price. Meanwhile, growth has stayed strong, suggesting good prospects in the short term, too.

My hunch is that Hamleys, the famous toy shop on London's Regent Street, at 397.5p, is well worth a visit and not just at Christmas. The shares were hit recently by the surprise departure of new chief executive, Geoffrey Cullinan, and the sale by chairman Howard Dyer of 20 per cent of his shareholding to raise pounds 1.36m.

Investors will learn in mid-January how Christmas trading went. But the overall strategy looks good, with new stores opening in airports such as Schiphol in Holland and Changi in Singapore. A franchise operation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is due to open shortly and may create a model for other new openings. Analysts expect earnings per share to rise 10 per cent to 21.3p, with 24.5p next time.

Two other promising longer-term shares are Tie Rack, at 187p, and Wyevale Garden Centres, at 232.5p. The latter might look an unusual high street choice, but long-term appeal comes from the group's position as the dominant gardening centre chain in a fragmented market, with earnings expected to grow at close to 15 per cent annually.

Earnings per share projections for Tie Rack are not too dramatic for the next couple of years, although BZW analyst Geoff Douglas has tweaked his profit forecast up from pounds 8.5m to pounds 8.8m against last year's pounds 8.0m with an expected pounds 10.3m for 1997-98. The bottom line has been held back as the group gears up for overseas expansion with shops opening worldwide.