The Investment Column: A soft landing for Uno

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The Independent Online
Twelve months ago furniture retailers looked as though they were sitting pretty. Millions of building society customers flush with windfalls were expected to rush out and spruce up their home with a brand new sofa or bed as the "feelgood factor" returned to the high street.

However, the sales boom failed to materialise. People appear instead to have splashed out on a holiday of a lifetime. Growing fears that the economy is running out of steam together with the slowdown in the housing market and higher interest rates have seen share prices across the sector fall out of bed.

Uno has suffered along with the rest. Its shares fell another 8.5p to 261.5p yesterday, having slipped from a peak of 337.5p last year. However, Uno looks a better bet than most. In an fragmented industry, it looks like the small, independent operators are suffering the most, with larger players like Uno continuing to pick up market share. That trend should continue as Uno rolls out its chain across the country. Its policy of avoiding the high street for out-of-town sites is also proving popular with customers. The group enjoyed a good Christmas and, more importantly, a strong-trading performance in the January sales.

The jury is still out on last year's acquisition of World of Leather. Uno has cut prices and is busy updating the stores. Refurbishment costs and a new advertising campaign will impact on margins in the short term. However, early sales figures look encouraging.

Profits for the six months to November rose to pounds 495,000 (pounds 306,000) Societe Generale has edged up full-year profit forecasts to pounds 4.65m for the year to April and pounds 6m next year, putting the shares on a prospective price- earnings ratio of 15, falling to 12. Good value.