The Investment Column: LIG strategy paying off

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The Independent Online
THE MARKET has gradually been warming to London International Group, the Durex condom maker. LIG shares have risen by nearly 40 per since the interim figures last November as the City has responded to the strategy of slimming the group down to concentrate on so-called "barrier" products such as condoms and latex gloves.

Medical products such as its gripe water and Buttercup syrup brands have long gone. And the process continued during the last year with the sale of Cook Bates, the American manicure implements company, which involved taking a pounds 12m exceptional charge.

Nick Hodges, chief executive, now reckons the shape of the business is right with a small health and beauty business in markets like Spain and Italy where the sales forces are useful to help sell the group's condoms.

LIG's investments are starting to pay off and Mr Hodges easily beat his target of improving sales, profits and earnings by 10 per cent a year after only just scraping over the line in November. Operating profit before exceptionals rose by 12.3 per cent to pounds 46.7m and earnings rose by more than 17 per cent.

In condoms the new Avanti polyurethane products are the big thing. Selling at three times the prices of standard latex ranges, the company is now claiming 11 per cent of the UK market with strong sales in Italy and Germany.

More acquisitions are on the agenda, particularly in the Far East where LIG is keen to expand. Though it has a business in Indonesia, bought last year, it says it has been unaffected by the troubles there.

On CSFB's current year forecast of pounds 47m the shares - up 15.5p to 212.5p yesterday - trade on a forward rating of 22. Not cheap, but with strong earnings growth the shares look good value up to 250p.