The Investment Column: Clydeport still has plenty of problems

Clydeport, the Glasgow-based ports operator, solved one of its problems yesterday when it found a chief executive after a five-month search. The arrival in September of Tom Allison, a relatively unknown former director of CSC Forest Products, will certainly fill a gap on the ship's bridge. But he will have his work cut out to restore this company to rude health after its recent poor run.

Floated at 133p in 1994, Clydeport shares have been hit by a series of downbeat announcements and are still below the issue price at 120p, unchanged yesterday.

Mr Allison would not be drawn on his strategy yesterday, saying he needed more time to decide on his priorities. But the City is extremely wary of Clydeport's position.

The group will lose one of its big contracts in the autumn, when Tate & Lyle closes a sugar refinery near Glasgow. It has also been suffering from the strong pound, which has affected the export of scrap metal out of its west of Scotland ports. And most fundamental of all, Clydeport's operations are seen as being on the wrong side of Scotland, with the east coast ports creaming off the European trade and Liverpool taking much whisky trade bound for the United States.

To be fair to Clydeport, the shares have not been helped by the whole ports sector being under a cloud, including the flagship stock AB Ports.

One possible bright spot for shareholders is the possible emergence of takeover speculation, given the consolidation evident in the sector for some years now. But without such support, the shares will not be re-rated until there are signs that Mr Allison is getting to grips with the group's problems. On current year forecasts of pounds 5.75m, the shares trade on a lowly forward rating of 9 and remain unattractive.

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