The data looks promising for MR

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The Independent Online
Since Colin Haylock took over as chief executive in 1995, shares in MR - formerly MR Data Management - have managed to stage something of a renaissance. From languishing at 55p, following two years of undistinguished results, they have subsequently recovered to reach 88.5p.

The question now is whether, if he can sort out any remaining problems at the group, Mr Haylock can deliver on his promises of expanding. He sees the future for MR as an overall document manager for businesses - from the old MR speciality of microfilm archives, to outsourcing and data capture. New technology will play a large part in the plan, and the group wants to move ahead with small acquisitions in areas where it is still weak. His promise is that MR will be a changed company within two years, or else it will have failed its shareholders. If it works, profits will be back on a strong upward trend again. Worth backing.

ON TO A gourmet treat for lovers of Chinese and Thai food: Oriental Restaurant Group comes to the market next week via a placing at 154p to raise pounds 4m, valuing the business at pounds 14.7m. It combines a wholesale Thai food business for the Thai restaurant industry inside the M25, alongside a restaurant division, with restaurants, one in Soho, and three in the City of London. Given the combination of quality food, and a premium pricing policy, the group could do well.

A NEW report from Klesch & Co - the specialist debt trader, which follows the fortunes of companies going through difficult times - reckons Queens Moat Houses (18p) is doing its best at an operating level. But the prospects of it reaching its targets for paying down its mountainous debts on time look worse than ever.

Negative net worth of pounds 198.5m lies uneasily alongside a market capitalisation for the shares of pounds 74m. Although the report concentrates on the value of the company's debt, the message to equity investors is stark: at these levels, the shares are grossly overvalued. Avoid.

ON Wednesday, JJB Sports, a leading independent sports retailer, announces interim figures for the six months to 31 July. The market has pencilled in pre-tax profits of pounds 6.5m. Euro 96, the Olympic Games, and the presence of British tennis number one Tim Henman, says the company, have all boosted sales.

With pre-tax profits having grown strongly since it was floated in 1994 at 215p, the shares, at 280p, although on a premium, remain attractive.

BY CONTRAST, figures this week from another retailer, House of Fraser (151.5p), are unlikely to set the pulse racing. Losses are set to rise to around pounds 3m (pounds 0.5m), on sales of pounds 330m (pounds 322.6m), for the six months to July.

The new group chief executive will also publish the findings of a strategic review. Even if there is some good news, HoF has yet to have the look of any of the other retail recovery stories of the last few years. Avoid.

SHARES in JBA, the software developer, are on an expensive rating, at around 25 times forecast earnings for 1996. Given their rise from around 150p, to 509p currently, clearly there is a weight of expectations on the company. At the recent full-year results, sales of pounds 124.7m (pounds 90.7m), gave rise to pre-tax profits of pounds 8.7m (pounds 6.13m).

It seems the business is well ahead in its plans to develop a global presence, given added credibility by its strong ties to IBM. Some exciting prospects are also in store in continental Europe. Although net debt rose to pounds 17.3m from pounds 8m - high for a software house - the bulk of current development costs should now be tailing off. So JBA should be able to boost its cashflow strongly as well over the next two years. Pricey, but the shares are a tentative buy.