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Sunday share tips: Joules, Idox

Sun 09 February 2020 12:02 | A A A

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(Sharecast News) - In his 'Inside the City' column for the Sunday Times, Sam Chambers was looking at "cuddly countryside" clothing brand Joules, and how new chief executive Nick Jones was facing one crisis after another.

Before Christmas, the company slipped up by sending too much stock to its stores, resulting in too-empty warehouses and an online store that couldn't fulfil its orders.

Now, Chambers wrote, the spread of the novel coronavirus strain was threatening to derail Joules' recovery.

The firm sources 90% of its products from China, and although a large proportion of its spring and summer ranges are already on their way from the factories, an extended closure of manufacturing facilities in the People's Republic could see it face another Christmas without enough stock.

Add to that the ongoing uncertainty caused by the trade war between the US and China, and Chambers said it was making for an uncertain outlook for the company.

The stock issues last Christmas saw Joules - which went public in 2016 - issue its first profit warning after it saw peak sales fall 4.5%.

Its shares closed Friday's session at 175p, giving the firm a valuation of €156.4m, which was down more than half from its highest point in 2018.

Nick Jones was convinced the "snafu" before Christmas was a one-off issue, with Chambers writing that while it was anything but an ideal situation, the first-time chief executive did have some "old heads" around him.

"Deadly viruses and trade wars were probably the last things Tom Joule, the brand's founder, could have foreseen when he began selling clothes from a stall at a Leicestershire county fair in 1989," Chambers said.

Joule remained heavily involved in the creative side of things, as well as strategy, he added.

47-year-old Jones, who has previously worked at Marks & Spencer and Asda, has told shareholders that traffic to Joules' online offering was still growing, with more than half of its annual sales of €218m last year now being made over the internet.

And while that was certainly not a bad thing, Chambers noted that rising advertising costs and "ferocious competition" was "hitting profits in the fastest-growing part of the market".

Joules also had its eyes on its biggest foreign market - America - where sales had tripled to around €30m in the last three years, primarily through partnerships with smaller specialist retailers, and high-end department stores such as Nordstrom.

The "unfolding disaster" at Ted Baker, and struggles at Superdry, were described by Chambers as "unhelpful and very public" reminders for Jones of how quickly fashion brands could fall out of favour with the ever-fickle consumer.

From a fashion perspective, he wrote that the "less stylised and more timeless" Joules aesthetic did make for less volatile trading, but the question was whether Jones - himself a fresh face in the City - could get that message through to retail-shy investors remained to be seen.

"Joules is by no means down and out, but there is far more to worry over than get excited about right now. Avoid.

Over in the Mail on Sunday, Joanne Hart was looking at AIM-traded Idox for her 'Midas' column - a firm whose technology powers the online planning application process for more than 90% of local authorities in the UK.

The company's speciality is public sector software, with the NHS being another big market for it, as numerous hospitals use its tools to ensure beds, equipment and medical notes make it into the right place at the tight time.

Last year, the company tracked 11.5 million patient records, helping staff know where their patients are and what their notes said.

Idox also supplies technology for elections, as well, helping to ensure poll cards are sent out correctly, and allowing results to be digitally tracked.

The company's shares were currently sitting at 35p, with Hart saying that they should show "strong gains" in the coming years, under chief executive David Meaden.

She described the company as a "digital pioneer", with a long list of customers and a record of success going back to the 1990s.

In recent years, however, it had "lost its way", Hart wrote, as it expanded too rapidly and took on too much debt, before Meaden was appointed in June 2018 in a bid to turn the business around.

He has spent decades working in the software industry, including 12 years at Northgate Public Services, where he oversaw a fourfold expansion of that company before it was bought out by private equity in 2014.

Since he took the corner office at Idox, the board and management team had been through change, loss-making divisions have been sold, debt was back under control, and the firm had adopted what Hart called a "more collaborative approach" to software development, research and sales.

There were also some "impressive new shareholders" on the register, with Hart pointing out that billionaire George Soros had amassed a holding of more than 12% in the company.

In early March, Idox will take the wraps off its results for 2019, which are expected to show the decent progress made to date on the turnaround, as well as plans for future growth.

Sales and profits are expected to be much in line with 2018, at €68m and €7.7m respectively.

For 2020, however, brokers had pencilled in revenues of €73m and a decent rise in profits to €13.5m, with even further growth anticipated in 2021.

Idox was forced to axe its dividend in 2018, but Hart said Meaden was hopeful he could reintroduce it as soon as possible - ideally within a couple of years.

The company, based in Theale, near Reading, sees around two-thirds of its revenue come from the UK public sector, although it also works with "thousands of companies", from bus operators to water suppliers.

Hart also pointed to its compliance division, describing it as "well regarded", which helps companies train employees on any regulation they need to be abreast of.

That private sector division had a more global outlook too, working with clients from countries including Australia, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.

"Idox shares hit 77p in the summer of 2017 - by the following year, they had fallen to 27p," Hart wrote.

"They have recovered since then, to 35p, but the best is yet to come."

She said the company had developed a "strong reputation" in its field, with business expected to rebound under Meaden's stewardship.

"Idox may even attract bid attention once it really starts to motor. Buy."

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