The Investment Column: End to gloom for Berisford

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The Independent Online
BERISFORD, the Magnet kitchens and Welbilt catering equipment business, has been on an improving trend for some time now, after a period when it seemed to shower profit warnings around like confetti. The shares have doubled over the past year and rose 15.5p to 248.5p yesterday on the back of a good set of interim figures.

Pre-tax profits rose 50 per cent to pounds 21.7m and both sides of the business are performing strongly. Welbilt, which supplies grills and ovens to the fast-food industry, has improved profits by 21 per cent even though the US market grew by just 2 per cent. It has developed new products and increased its margin by 0.8 percentage points. And the long-running strike at its Darlington factory is over.

Acquisitions are now on the menu, particularly in the Far East, where Berisford hopes to take advantage of lower asset prices. It has already made one deal in Thailand and is looking at South Korea and Malaysia too, with a war chest of up to pounds 300m.

Magnet has also done well in a kitchens market that has been patchy at best. Though the market grew by 5 per cent, Magnet's sales rose by 11 per cent. Though the market is predicted to grow by only 2-3 per cent over the next year or so, Magnet hopes to improve profits by increasing its margins. This means there could be some mileage yet in the share price. On forecasts of pounds 46m, the shares trade on a forward rating of 11. Still reasonable value.