Tip from City's favourite analyst

BZW's Julia Blake beats 1,500 for top investment accolade

THE City's favourite analyst was educated at a polytechnic, spurned a job offer from Marks and Spencer, served a spell in industry . . . and is a woman.

Julia Blake, Barclays de Zoete Wedd's textiles analyst, beat 1,500 of her peers to win the top analyst slot in the Reuters ranking of investment analysts. Fewer than 10 per cent of stockbrokers' analysts are female.

Ms Blake, who earned her rag trade spurs as a protg of Next founder George Davies, pipped NatWest Securities' oil analyst Fergus MacLeod by one point.

Among the early calls that helped establish her reputation at BZW was bullish support for Courtaulds before its de-merger. More recently, investors who have followed her advice to buy Dewhurst in late 1992 will have seen their stake soar from 28p to £1.70. "This job's about spotting companies like Dewhurst that are going to become the big companies of the future," she said.

One fund manager who voted for her said it was the quality of her research and forecasts that made her tops. "Her calls have been very accurate," he said.

But the survey of 42 major fund managers has come under fire from critics, who say her victory was due to a statistical quirk. The more established 1994 Extel Survey ranked Mr MacLeod first and Ms Blake 19th. Ms Blake was at an advantage in the Reuters Survey because she faced less competition in her specific sector.

A farmer's daughter from Woodstock, Oxfordshire, Ms Blake, 32, was educated at Leicester Polytechnic, now De Montfort University, where she received a BSc honours degree in textile technology. Given the option of training for a year with M&S - considered as secure as a Civil Service posting - or with the innovative Leicester company Next, Ms Blake confounded her tutors by choosing the latter.

"Next was changing the face of the High Street," she said, adding that it was disappointing to report on Next when it ran into trouble a few years later.

A colleague who worked with her then said Ms Blake was popular and hard- working. "It was during a period of high growth and would have been good training for anyone."

While there she got first-hand experience working with cloth and clothing companies in the buying department and tried her hand at design, but she knew she wanted to understand the business side of textiles in more depth. On 1 October, 1986, the day of the Big Bang, she became a research assistant to David Buck at BZW.

Under Mr Buck's tutelage she started off doing statistical research, then became a junior analyst. Her background in the industry served her well. "It allowed me to access companies and talk sense to them and not look like a young whippersnapper. It gave me much more air time with companies."

Ms Blake said it was her colleague, Bruce Hobbard, who did most of the statistical work. "He's the train spotter on balance sheets, and I'm more of a management and production spotter."

While still following textiles, she is shifting more of her attention to speciality selling in the stores sector. "You don't want to get stale," she said. "The moment this job isn't a challenge it's time to get out."

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