Transatlantic's hot property

This has been a busy year for Transatlantic, the property and life insurance group, and Capital Shopping Centres, its 75 per cent owned retail property investment business. The disposal of a 50 per cent stake in Sun Life to partner UAP of France marked a temporary withdrawal from the life insurance business, while the purchase of the Metro Centre from the Church Commissioners and a pounds 200m shopping centre development in Scotland confirmed its dominance of the market.

Those moves made interim figures announced yesterday largely academic. For the record, they showed an underlying rise in pre-tax profits from pounds 40.5m to pounds 49.4m at Transatlantic and pre-tax profits for Capital's first interim period of pounds 22.3m. Transatlantic's shares, unchanged at 322p, and Capital's, 4p higher at 214p, confirmed that the market learnt little yesterday that it did not already know.

The problem with assessing Transatlantic is that its prospects depend on how it spends a war chest of up to pounds 700m. Chairman Donny Gordon has made it clear that he remains committed to the long-term insurance industry but the market is wisely waiting to see what that actually means.

Easier to judge is the future of Capital Shopping Centres. Out of town shopping centres are far and away the most buoyant area of the property industry as John Gummer's late conversion to green policies fails to stem the flow of shoppers away from town centres. The value of those centres that have already slipped through the planning net has only been boosted.

Against that tightening regime, buying the Metro Centre was a major coup and shareholders will eventually benefit. Having floated at 230p on an ambitious 13 per cent premium to net assets in March 1994, the shares have gone nowhere but they remain a good long-term bet.

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