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Company spotlight: Baggeridge

FINANCE

THIS column has been cautious over brickmaker Baggeridge in the past and the statement issued from last week's annual general meeting can only reaffirm that stance.

The group has pushed through a price hike that will offset flat recent rates of sale but will not compensate for surging gas prices.

Gas is the main fuel used by Baggeridge in making bricks and the volatile market has pushed prices well up over the past year.

The firm had a fixed rate arrangement but, in line with other manufacturers reliant on gas, has switched to a floating price deal.

The high cost of gas over this winter has hit Baggeridge and will 'adversely affect' the half-year results due out in May, chairman Alexander Ward warned shareholders at last week's AGM.

Using information from independent consultants, the board does not think fullyear expectations need to be dampened. But those expectations may hinge not just on gas prices but on the performance of the UK housing market.

A rate cut at the Bank of England's next meeting on interest rates would give the housing market the boost it needs. If starts on new houses do slump by the 10,000 some forecasters have suggested, that is not going to help Baggeridge make up for the high winter gas costs over the rest of the year.

Of the brokers to cover the shares, Arbuthnot rates the stock a 'buy' up to a target level of 185p. That looks a more than full figure for now.