Tips from the press
If the health of a consultancy such as
can be measured by the number of consultants it can afford to employ, and this is at least a crude measure of performance, then Atkins' UK business is in good shape. The company added a modest 100 staff members in the second half, the first real growth since 2009. In North America however, where in 2010 Atkins bought the privately owned consultancy The PBSJ Corporation, the picture is more mixed, not helped by the relatively high numbers of public holidays in the third quarter. Further downsizing took place in the autumn; the private sector is spending on health and IT, but states and the federal government seem gridlocked and this could last until the November elections and beyond. On the other hand, Atkins has won the job of providing Qatar's first central planning authority, although this does not preclude further significant work as preparations for the World Cup really get under way. The company's share price has rallied sharply since the autumn but then come off a bit with the rest of the market. The shares, up 12p at 719.5p last night, now sell on nine times' earnings. The company's stock is attractive at this level, but there is no obvious reason for any immediate outperformance, The Times' Tempus says (Last IC rating: Buy, 9 Feb).
Rising energy prices are a problem for all transport groups, but low-cost carrier
is riding the turbulence. Nonetheless, fuel costs are expected to remain high, which means times will be tough. Having said that, the company is doing pretty well given the market backdrop and has started to pay a dividend. This means a degree of caution is required, despite the City being generally upbeat about prospects for the airline. (The average price target, according to Bloomberg, is 540.9p.) The oil price remains stubbornly high and even comments last month from Saudi Arabia's oil minister that the country could raise production by a quarter "immediately" have failed to make much impact. The shares were first tipped on January 23 last year at 382p. A special dividend of 34.9p was paid last month and was accompanied by an 11-for-12 share consolidation. This means the adjusted entry price is now 416p, so the shares are up 13 per cent compared with a FTSE 100 down 6 per cent over the same period. The Daily Telegraph's Questor says hold (Last IC rating: Good value, 15 Nov).
At the end of last year, Canada's Eldorado Gold Corporation agreed to buy European Goldfields, one of Questor's tips of 2011. What should investors do now with the Eldorado shares they ended up holding as a result of the acquisition? A break-up of the euro could actually be good for the company. Firstly, such a move is likely to result in a spike in the price of gold. A return to the drachma would also be accompanied by some sort of devaluation, which would also mean the operating costs at the Greek mine would plunge. The gold price has also been subdued this year, as Greek contagion fears eased. Questor is not yet convinced that we are out of the woods on the whole Eurozone debt crisis. Indeed, yesterday GFMS, the precious metals research group, predicted that a looming flare-up in the Eurozone will propel the price of gold towards $2,000 an ounce this year. US analysts monitored by Bloomberg are generally upbeat on the company's prospects. Of the 22 analysts with a view monitored by Bloomberg, 13 have "buy" ratings, seven say "hold" and two have a "sell" rating. The average price target is C$20.17, almost 60 per cent above the current share price. Investors should therefore continue to hold the shares, Questor says (No IC rating).
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