Blackfriar: Friday on Chapelthorpe's mind for releasing good news

TYPICALLY, companies like to use Friday afternoons to bury bad news.

Blackfriar has seen more than his fair share of companies sneaking out a profits warning or a "directorate change" on a Friday night, just as the City is heading home.

But Blackfriar believes Chapelthorpe's interim results, published at 3.36pm last Friday, were buried for another reason: because of their quality.

The Bradford-based fibres group said operating profits almost trebled to 1.3m in the six months to the end of September compared with a year earlier. Sales rocketed 38 per cent to 55m as Chapelthorpe managed to pass on raw material costs to customers.

All of its fibres operations have grown profitability, with volumes increased and sales margins either maintained or improved.

The numbers make it abundantly clear how much of a bargain Peter Gyllenhammar got.

The activist Swedish investor is in the process of buying the group outright for just 5.1m and delisting it from the London Stock Exchange.

"I am pleased to report that our businesses have continued to recover and have performed reasonably well in the first six months of the year," was his brief statement on the results.

He now has 84.5 per cent of the company since buying out its second biggest investor in July. Shareholders had the tough choice of either remaining minority investors in a company about to be delisted, or take the paltry 25p a share offer.

Mr Gyllenhammar's audacious purchase is symptomatic of the low end of the Alternative Investment Market, where companies struggle to achieve a decent valuation and can be picked off by predators.

Earlier this month big shareholders in Doncaster engineer Clyde Process Solutions got fed up with its valuation on AIM and decided to sell up to private equity. Its low share price meant it was unable to issue paper for new acquisitions.

Latest figures show the number of companies on AIM has continued to slide year-on-year since a peak of 1,694 in 2007. In November just 1,196 companies were listed on AIM.

But even with the gloom surrounding the junior market, Blackfriar sees glimmers of hope.

Leeds digital marketing agency Fuse 8, which moved from Plus to AIM in the summer, plans to use its listing to grow. It wants to issue or sell shares to snap up rivals in the online marketing sector, which it believes is ripe for consolidation.

"We believe AIM will be a great platform for us to achieve the company's growth plans," said chief executive Nigel Hunter.

"Whilst other companies are leaving AIM, I am pleased to be able to report such strong prospects for the company.

"Fuse 8 is emerging as a forward-thinking digital agency and the platform AIM provides should help propel the company onwards in its ambition to become one of the UK's pre-eminent digital agencies."

Blackfriar wishes it well.

n At a time when other doorstep lenders are facing a bleak future, International Personal Finance is reporting strong growth and a rise in consumer confidence.

The Leeds-based company said it is in good shape going into the Christmas season and into next year. While the snow in the UK has brought much of the country to a standstill, the markets that IPF operates in have been left fairly unscathed.

The group's decision to focus on overseas markets and ignore the UK is standing it in good stead. The last week before Christmas will be particularly important for IPF as this is when customers borrow money to pay for festive food. So far it looks like being another bumper period for the company which has managed to skilfully manoeuvre its way through the downturn.

During 2010 the group has seen a return to economic growth, an improved economic outlook and improvements in consumer confidence. IPF has benefited as the countries it operates in have had less exposure to the global recession than the UK.

"Most of the economies we deal with are doing much better than the UK," said IPF's chief executive John Harnett.

The group is not resting on its laurels. It hopes to enter a new market next year and will make a decision on whether to push into Ukraine, Bulgaria or India.

Analysts were full of praise for IPF following this latest update.

"We accept that the market understands the attractions that IPF holds as a 'growth' business," said analyst Danielle James at Shore Capital.

"However, we believe that the nature of this growth is thought to be a one-dimensional 'emerging markets' story whilst we see it as multi-faceted.

"We see material growth potential as a function of four distinct factors – geographical expansion, cyclical recovery, structural economic growth within markets and organic growth in customer numbers."

Investors looking for a positive financial stock in 2011 should take a look at IPF.