Waiting for a trend at Nurdin

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The Independent Online
The last 12 months have been a year Nurdin & Peacock would probably prefer to forget. The cash-and-carry retailer parted company with its chief executive, who is taking legal action for compensation, abandoned its "pioneering" Cargo Club warehouse format little more than a year after its launch and most recently found itself embroiled in a spat with its Dutch shareholder, SHV Makro, over a possible merger.

The result was yesterday's announcement that profits in the year to December had halved to £16.5m, hit by trading losses from Cargo Club and £4m in costs relating to the conversion of outlets to the TBW format.

But that was last year and, according to Dickie Fulford, chairman, this year will be different. He points to improving like-for-like sales since the year-end as encouraging signs that the market is beginning to turn. The success of the National Lottery is enticing customers into the independent retailers that form N&P's core customer base and having a knock-on effect on other purchases. The hope is that when customers pick uplottery tickets they will also buy a tin ofbaked beans or something similar. But analysts are concerned the upturn in sales mightbe a blip rather than a long-term trend and that thesectorcould look adull prospect again in a year or two.

They would like to see Nurdin form a buying partnership to increase its purchasing power, butthe company is not convinced it can find a suitable partner.

The shares have recovered from a 12-month low of 138pin December to 188p yesterday.NatWest Securities forecasts profits of £30.6m for the current year, putting theshares on a prospective price-earnings ratio of 11.3, a justified discount to the sector until a clearer picture of trading emerges. Hold for now.