Verity's hi-fi is high-risk: The Investment Column

Verity is the ultimate share for hi-fi anoraks. With names such as Wharfdale and Quad, the group's brands sound like a roll-call of the cream of British audio equipment. But they did not prevent the group coming to the brink of collapse in 1993 after three years of mounting losses and a torrent of cash calls.

Farad Azima, parachuted in as chief executive after his Mission amplifiers to CD players group was reversed into Verity in 1993, dragged the group back into the black, but what has really ignited the shares are the prospects for its revolutionary NXT flat speaker technology. Last autumn, the price more than tripled after the group set up a separate subsidiary, New Transducers, to develop the ground-breaking product and hinted that industry giants such as Nokia and Panasonic could be interested in the technology.

Yesterday the shares added another 3.25p to a new peak of 43p, despite news of yet another cash call for pounds 8.65m, after the group revealed that NEC, the Japanese consumer electronics group, had become the first to sign a licence agreement for NXT. Mr Azima is suggesting there could be plenty more where that came from.

Analysts expect the NEC deal alone could bring in royalties in its first year of up to $1.5m and further discussions are taking place with "major companies" in Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea. The list of applications for a loudspeaker less than 1mm thick which produces hi-fi quality sound are virtually endless, ranging from laptop computers to transport and architectural uses. Sir Norman Foster's eponymous architectural practice is looking at the possibilities in concert halls, stations and the like.

The question will be whether Verity can handle all this. First-half results to December showed the group plunging back into the red with a loss of pounds 1.43m replacing profits of pounds 1.24m. New Transducers racked up development costs of pounds 1.47m and the redirection of resources to NXT caused trading profits to halve. Full-year profits are expected to be down pounds 1m at pounds 1.6m. High risk, but the new shares at 36p are worth a punt.

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