Stick with shares
of Marks & Spencer and consider what the company could achieve if all its businesses performed well, Questor said in the Sunday Telegraph. M&S's food business has continued to do well while supermarket rivals face price pressure. M&S reported clothing separately from its other non-food products at last week's trading update, showing clothes sales up 0.6%. That is not great but Chief Executive Marc Bolland said womenswear was encouraging. The question for M&S is whether increased sales are at the expense of lower prices. Until that matter is resolved the shares are a hold.
If Debenhams can show that its deterioration has stopped, investor faith may be restored, Matthew Goodman argued in the Sunday Times. The department store shocked the City on new year's eve by warning of dire Christmas sales. Chief Executive Michael Sharp has been working on a recovery plan and sales will have been helped by recent warm weather, Goodman said in the Inside the City column. Mike Ashley's Sports Direct is pushing for Debenhams to stock its clothing lines. Cantor Fitzgerald predicts half-year profits of £86m, just above analysts' consensus, when Debenhams reports on April 15th.
RSA Insurance remains a high-risk buy, the Sunday Telegraph's Questor column recommended. The company has completed a rights issue to prop up its finances after discovering losses at its Irish arm. Beyond the Irish business, RSA has attractive operations in Scandinavia, Canada and emerging markets. Its annual results showed profit down because of accounting issues but cash flow was strong.
Shares of estate agent Martin & Co offer value for the long run, the Mail on Sunday's Midas column argued. The company added sales to its lettings business in 2012 in time to benefit from the property market revival. Martin floated on the Aim market last December and is well placed to gain from the more upbeat mood. Martin agents are franchisees so they have a big incentive to succeed while drawing on the group for support. Chief Executive Ian Wilson has pledged to pay half of post-tax profits as dividends.
Reckitt Benckiser is reportedly the favourite to buy Merck's consumer health business, including Coppertone sun cream. Its fourth-quarter figures on April 16th could be a chance to update investors on the deal. However, Matthew Goodman, in the Sunday Times's Inside the City column, said reticent Reckitt would probably steer clear of discussing the transaction.
There are more gains in store for long-term investors in Macfarlane Group after its shares rose 62% following Midas's recommendation in December 2012, the Mail on Sunday column said. The packaging company has moved into supplying online merchants including upmarket companies that are expanding on the internet. Analysts forecast sales up 3% this year with profits up 5% and the shares yielding almost 4%. Macfarlane should grow faster over the next few years as the economy picks up. Shareholders should hold on and new investors could find value.
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