The Investment column: Boosey upbeat on bid speculation

SO IT LOOKS as if Boosey & Hawkes's unfinished symphony might at last be drawing to a close. The classical music publisher and instrument maker was effectively put into play when Carl Fischer, the privately-owned US group which owns 45 per cent of Boosey, put itself up for sale.

That was a year ago. Since then, enough names to staff an orchestra have been linked with the group, but no deal has been done. Now Carl Fischer has given bidders until the end of the month to come up with their best offer.

Revived bid speculation will be welcomed by Boosey shareholders, who have seen the value of their investment plunge by a third since last August when the shares peaked at 1062.5p. They jumped 42.5p to 722.5p on the news yesterday. Even Boosey itself has tabled some kind of an offer, though it will not say what.

But even without the added frisson of a possible bid, Boosey shares deserve a look. Results out yesterday showed pre-exceptional profits rising 5 per cent to pounds 8.1m on turnover up 4 per cent to pounds 94.8m.

That's a robust performance, given that overseas sales were held back by the strong pound. The publishing business also suffered from a drop in performances of Richard Strauss's work ahead of the 50th anniversary of the composer's death next year, when numerous special events are planned.

Looking ahead, there is still plenty of scope for growth in the US where Boosey - despite doubling its share of the market in the past five years - is still a relatively small player.

Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, the stockbroker, forecasts profits of pounds 9.7m this year, and expects annual earnings growth of 15 per cent thereafter. Whether a bid eventually emerges or not, the shares, on a forward price/earnings ratio of 21, are good value.

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