Stalk Your Favourite Companies!

Published in Investing on 24 September 2009

It's easy to keep tabs on companies if you know where to look.

Ever wondered how -- for example -- the compilers of the Sunday Times annual 'Rich List' can be so certain as to the shareholdings of the millionaires covered by the list? Or how newspapers and on-line data sources know which directors are buying -- or selling -- shares in the companies on whose boards they sit?

It's possible because the companies concerned must actually publish this information, in the form of releases to the London Stock Exchange known as the Regulatory News Service (RNS).

Several hundred RNS announcements are made on a typical day. A lot of it is information that you'd expect: interim results, annual results, news of significance (such as when an oil exploration company finds oil), or changes in the composition of the board of directors. But some of it is a little out of the ordinary -- more of which below. And if you've got shares in the company concerned, virtually all of it is relevant. Yet many investors don't even know about RNS releases, far less read them or know where to find them.

And accessing the RNS newsflow isn't difficult. You can find it at the London Stock Exchange website, for instance, or at specialist sites such as InvestEgate or the Fool white label version at uk-wire.com which you access via the quotes and data page.

Let's a take a look at the sort of information being disclosed on a fairly typical day -- today, for instance.

Early start

The RNS day starts at 7:00am with a burst of regular traffic -- annual results, interim results, and annual reports. Sure enough, today's 7:00am crop contained disappointing interim results from advertising business M&C Saatchi (LSE: SAA), so-so annual results from Fool favourite lighting company FW Thorpe (LSE: TFW), and frankly disastrous interim results from JJB Sports (LSE: JJB).

Other 7:00am announcements were somewhat less business-as-usual. Mining giant Vedanta Resources (LSE: VED) reported that a chimney at an under-construction power plant in India had collapsed. Construction activities in the immediate area have been suspended, said the company, and "relief and rescue operations are in full swing with the involvement of the company and the government resources."

Closer to home, VT Group (LSE: VTG) announced it was quitting a join-venture with BAE Systems (LSE: BA), while property maintenance specialists Homeserve (LSE: HSV) reported the sale of its Emergency Services Division in an £11 million transaction.

Elsewhere, ROK (LSE: ROK) announced a contract win, and Premier Farnell (LSE: PFL) told the market it was buying a German‑based developer and supplier of specialist computer aided design software. And speaking of software, TradeLabs (LSE: TLAP) announced that it was paying StrategyBot Russia Ltd a hefty £2.4 million for 21 computer algorithms. Nice work if you can get it.

Missing in action

What the 7:00am announcements didn't contain were the annual results from LitComp (LSE: LIN), an AIM tiddler that specialises in a niche sector of the insurance market, and a business that I've had my eye on. It was due to publish those results today -- or so I thought.

Instead, investors were met with a fairly unusual RNS, explaining that the release had been put back a week until 30 September. Good news? Bad news? No explanation was given.

But at 11:10am, a further RNS carried news of a potential bid for the company, prompting a 17% drop in the share price. "The Board of LitComp notes the recent rise in the Company's share price and announces that the Company is in advanced discussions regarding a possible offer for the Company at 33 pence per share in cash. No final agreement has been reached and so there can be no certainty as to whether an offer for the Company will or will not be made." An announcement at 12:27pm brought news of a change of adviser, appointing Seymour Pierce Limited as NOMAD.

De-listing

The RNS newsflow also contains news of new listings and de-listings. Sure enough, at 7:30am, debt solutions specialist Money Debt & Credit Group (LSE: MDCG) announced a proposed de-listing. Shares fell 30% on the news. A listing on AIM was too costly for the loss-making business, reported the company, and it also absorbed significant amounts of management time.

Furthermore, "admission to trading on AIM of the Ordinary Shares no longer serve a useful function for the Company in terms of its ability to access capital" -- a reflection, perhaps, that the company seems to be able to borrow significant sums from its chairman and chief executive Simon Johnson.

Mr Johnson's unsecured loans to the company now stand at £5.5 million, up from an initial £3.1 million. Whew. I'll happily supply my contact details if you'd like to bung a few quid my way, Simon.

Director's holdings

And what of those juicy directors' holdings? Another gentleman not short of a bob or two appears to be one James Guillaume Allen Young, who has notified Young & Co.'s Brewery (LSE: YNGA) of a change in his holding in the company.

His holding, previously 4,215,436 shares -- being 14.5% of the voting rights -- has been trimmed to 4,013,054 shares, equivalent to 13.81% of the voting rights. Mr Young holds 796,322 shares in his own name, said the RNS, while a further 3,216,732 shares are jointly registered with Thomas fflorance Barrow Young, and Torquil Charles fflorance Barrow Sligo‑Young. You couldn't make it up.

And while Mr Young appears to be selling shares, over at troubled building firm Barratt Developments (LSE: BDEV), incoming finance director David Thomas is buying shares -- 20,000 of them, and seemingly his first purchase. But with a £720 million rights issue announced yesterday, he'll soon have to stump up more cash if he doesn't want his stake in the business to be diluted.

More prosaically, FTSE 100 investment trust Alliance Trust (LSE: ATST) announced that chief executive Katherine Garrett‑Cox had made a regular monthly purchase of Alliance Trust shares for her SIPP -- 152 shares at a price of £3.13 per share. Excluding shares held in Alliance's Employee Benefit Trust, her holding now stands at 65,737 shares.

A valuable resource

It's clear, I hope, that it's worth taking a look at RNS announcements made by companies that you have a stake in -- or, for that matter, are considering investing in.

And it's not difficult. All the major RNS platforms allow company-specific searches -- enter the ticker code, and up they'll pop. In short, as free information goes, RNS releases can be very, very valuable to the private investor.

More from Malcolm Wheatley:

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