The Investment Column: Brands Hatch

MOTOR RACING is a glamorous business and it can also be a profitable one. The champagne corks were popping and investors were showered with good news yesterday as Brands Hatch Leisure announced record half-year results for the six months to 30 June.

The key to this was Brands Hatch's acquisition of the Daytona karting circuits, which contributed pounds 1.17m to the pounds 10.4m turnover. And the company is lining up a bright future, having secured the Formula One Grand Prix rights at Brands Hatch for six years from 2002. It also has rights to the second round of the World Superbike championship in 2000 and a share in British Superbike, also from 2000.

In the second half, the group's expenditure in organic expansion will kick in as its newly-launched Supercar and Rally Schools activities' units begin to bear fruit. Turnover from these activities rose 30 per cent in the period to pounds 2.64m, the second biggest contributor behind the events division, which netted pounds 2.83m.

Nicola Foulston, Brands Hatch's chief executive, plans to concentrate on consolidation and will probably make no more acquisitions in the second half. But she has not given up her hopes of winning control of the Silverstone racing circuit and says she would be willing to negotiate a deal with its owners, the British Racing Drivers' Club.

International expansion is also on the agenda, probably in places such as the Far East, South America, Africa and the Middle East where motorsports are virtually an unknown quantity.

Yesterday's results were in line with expectations and analysts have forecast full-year profits before tax of pounds 5.4m and earnings per share of 17.7p. No dividend was announced yesterday because this is always paid at the end of the year but in 1998 investors scooped a healthy 4p a share. With sustained organic growth on the cards, the shares, at 385p look cheap.