The Investment Column: Amstrad

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AMSTRAD'S shares, like its products, have a wide retail base. While City investors break into a cold sweat at the thought of owning its bargain products, why do they neglect the shares?

It could be that Alan Sugar, the chairman, is unaccustomed to answering the questions City institutions might ask. The company declined to give even a breakdown of sales yesterday as it unveiled annual profits showing a 77 per cent rise to pounds 94m.

How much of that came from selling digital set-top boxes, televisions or audio products is a mystery. Martin Bland, the finance director and like Mr Sugar part of the original team that built Amstrad by popularising PCs, declines even to say how many employees the company has just now.

What's known about the company is that BSkyB has picked it as one of its four set-top box suppliers. Given that the others are Pace, Grundig and Panasonic, that's quite an achievement.

Amstrad also has a track record in giving consumers what they want. That marketing magic currently means selling televisions through the supermarket network. Amstrad's only other assets are cash and working capital. Everything else is outsourced.

Beeson Gregory expects pre-tax profits of pounds 11.6m and earnings of 9.8p per share this year. Investors with faith in Mr Sugar will find the shares, at 91p, a bargain.