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Company spotlight: Boot

FINANCE

PUNTERS who bought into Henry Boot this time last year will be feeling particularly pleased with themselves.

During that time, the stock has risen by two thirds but, instead of taking profits in a business that has changed substantially in recent years, investors are stockpiling for more gains.

Long-established businesses to be divested include the construction management operation to its directors and the housing arm to Wilson Bowden.

Henry Boot continues to operate as a contractor but only turned over about £16 million in this segment in the first half of last year as less work than expected escaped from a Home Office prison framework deal.

Boot also operates a plant outfit but has drawn in its horns and, despite the FTSE reclassification, is becoming an oddity with few peers.

The interest for investors lies in how the healthy financial resources are deployed at Boot, where finance director Tony Cooper recently stood down for personal reasons.

The company has a stake in a Private Finance Initiative roads concession to operate part of the A69 but does not expect to become a major buyer and seller of PFI stakes.

The land management arm Hallam has been more of a focus and a pre-Christmas trading statement indicated that 2005 pre-tax profits will be at least £22.5 million.

As analysts were forecasting around £18 million profits, that is a significant uplift. With assets conservatively valued, the stock could still produce more gains, with construction activity too small to produce any black holes.