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THE INVESTMENT COLUMN : Burford offers shelter

Nigel Wray is one of the whizz kids of the 1980s stock market boom whose investment reputation has survived intact into the recessionary 1990s. Burford Holdings, the property group, is a case in point. Since Mr Wray reversed his Chartsearch tipsheet group into Burford in 1988, the shares have outperformed the rest of the index by 49 per cent, despite one of the worst property recessions since the war.

The record is impressive. Burford claims to have achieved a compound rate of increase in net assets of 106 per cent since 1987, a return which was heavily boosted by November's demerger of the Trocadero group, owner of the eponymous leisure complex in London's Piccadilly.

The Trocadero was a classic Nigel Wray deal. It was acquired for pounds 94m in the middle of 1994 having beggared two previous owners. The business is now valued at over pounds 200m on Aim.

Excluding Trocadero, net assets remaining with Burford showed a healthy 16 per cent rise to 104.3p last year. On the same basis, profits before tax slipped from pounds 14.7m to pounds 11.7m in the 12 months to December.

With the pounds 154m raised from the Trocadero deal and other disposals, the group has pounds 154m in cash, leaving it in a very strong position. The potential for something interesting may lie within the group of properties in London's Covent Garden acquired recently from Scottish Widows for pounds 49m.

In the meantime, house brokers BZW expect profits to recover to pounds 14m this year, with net assets climbing to 115p. The shares, unchanged at 107p, are a safe haven in a dull sector.