TSB left with not much to count on

City Talk

TSB Group shares caught a cold on Friday, shedding 5p to 252p - a fall of 16p from their 16-month high in the wake of a downgrade from hold to sell by Chris Smith, banking analyst at stockbroker James Capel. Mr Smith blighted the whole sector, taking Abbey National down 18p to 476p, Lloyds 9p to 645p, National Westminster 4p to 557p, and Barclays 8p to 675p, as he raised further concerns about the future health of the mortgage market.

Mr Smith said: "We have taken a new look at the mortgage market data, after advances fell sharply in April, down 15 per cent year-on-year. The volume of business is so low that they are having to employ excess capital in the capital market, where the margins are lower."

TSB's half-year results on 22 June will lead the rest of the banks. Mr Smith is sticking to his forecast of pounds 342m profits before provisions, against pounds 356m previously, but the real worry is that he sees no light at the end of this tunnel.

He prefers Barclays and NatWest, where more lending goes to small business and manufacturing.

STOCKBROKER Killick likes last week's figures from European Colour, the chemical colours maker - profits jumped 53 per cent and the dividend rose 48 per cent to 1.7p a share. "Once more, the company has extended its growth profits trend and is fulfilling its potential," the firm said.

The broker sees profits rising from pounds 1.87m to pounds 3.15m this year, and to pounds 3.8m next. At 80p, that would take the p/e ratio down to 12.

Good value, as the chemical market swings up.

ACCEPT the bid, says Nyren Scott-Malden, BZW's tobacco-sniffer, analysing the 625p-a-share offer by Richemont for the 39 per cent of Rothmans International it does not own.

"In the absence of a bid," says Mr Scott-Malden, "we do not believe that the shares would stand at above 500p." The shares are currently trading at 612p.

HIGH enough, says stockbroker Charles Stanley, about Queens Moat Houses shares, which have nearly doubled to 17p since we recommended them here three weeks ago.

Stanley suspects that the recovery from near-collapse may be slow, advising the patient to hold on, but recovery specialists should wait for a relapse before buying any more.

THE odium heaped on directors of British Gas during the six-hour annual shareholders' meeting on 31 May might, you would think, leave the shares friendless.

Not a bit of it. They have risen 13p to 315p since the crowds streamed out of the London Arena, as word filters through the City of successful cost-cutting and higher oil and gas production.

This should take profits over pounds 1bn this year, against pounds 737m in 1994. The shares are worth buying for the 6 per cent yield alone.

A SLICE of pizza is stockbroker BWD Rensburg's chosen dish, as the broker recommends PizzaExpress shares at just a penny off their year's high of 154p.

"The group is a strong upmarket and branded business with above average growth potential," says Rensburg's analyst, Sahill Shan.

The group plans to expand its 82-strong chain by 10 outlets a year over the next five or six years, aiming at 150 funded internally.

In the year ended this month, profits should have risen from pounds 4.5m to pounds 6.5m, putting the shares on an earnings multiple of 23.5.

Expensive, but good value. Buy.

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