7 top AIM market shares to buy now

Roland Head reveals his top AIM market picks and explains why London’s growth market can be a good place to find hidden bargains.

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London’s AIM market isn’t as well known as the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250. But it’s home to some quality growth businesses with the potential to deliver market-beating long-term gains.

A word of warning – AIM is more lightly regulated than the main market and also contains some high-risk speculative stocks. Careful research is needed to find the hidden gems, but I’ve found it’s worth the effort. Here are seven AIM market stocks that I’d consider buying for my portfolio today.

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Safer profits from property

My first choice is AIM property developer Watkin Jones (LSE: WJG). This company specialises in building student accommodation and apartment blocks, which it then sells to big rental landlords. New buildings are often pre-sold before they’re built, so the risk of losing money on completed projects is low.

The main fear I have is that this business could face much tougher competition in the future. Purpose-built rental accommodation is a growing market with some big money behind it. But Watkin Jones is an established player with a good reputation. I think it should continue to do well.

The shares have slumped recently, and this stock now offers one of the higher dividend yields on the AIM market, at around 3.9%. I think Watkin Jones looks good value at current levels.

A potential bargain

My second pick is tableware and home fragrance group Portmeirion (LSE: PMP). This business grew out of a gift shop in North Wales, but today owns brands including Spode, Royal Worcester and Wax Lyrical.

One potential concern for me is that if it continues to buy up other businesses, Portmeirion could lose focus on its core pottery business. This still generates the majority of profits.

However, Portmeirion’s latest results suggest to me that this isn’t a problem yet. The group’s 2021 profits were only slightly below 2019 levels and City analysts expect profits to hit record highs this year.

The shares currently trade on just eight times earnings and offer a 4% dividend yield. I’m tempted to buy at current levels.

Promising newcomer

Franchise Brands (LSE: FRAN) only floated on AIM in 2016 but is growing fast and looks promising to me. This group owns a range of franchised businesses, including drain specialist Metro Rod.

Management recent expanded into the US with the acquisition of Filta, which provides commercial kitchen maintenance services through a franchise network in the UK and US.

Franchise Brands’ shares aren’t cheap, on 21 times 2022 forecast earnings. If growth slows, then the shares could fall sharply. But progress so far has been good, in my view.

Annual profit has risen from under £2m in 2017 to more than £5m last year. Franchise Brands is one AIM growth stock I’d consider buying for my portfolio.

Nuclear specialist

I normally avoid buying shares in building contractors. But I think that Renew Holdings is a bit different. This business specialises in essential infrastructure such as rail, water and nuclear energy.

Most of these areas are heavily regulated. Unlike housing and commercial property, they do not usually suffer from cyclical booms and busts. I’m particularly interested in the exposure to nuclear energy, which I think could be a growth area as the UK moves away from coal and gas.

Renew has delivered steady growth in recent years, with profits rising from £12m in 2017 to more than £30m last year. So far, management has been able to manage material shortages and rising costs without any impact on trading, we’re told.

If these problems continue, I think it might become more difficult for the company to manage them. That could cause profits to fall below expectations.

However, I’d see this as a short-term issue that would affect many competitors equally, so I’m not too worried. For now, I think Renew Holdings looks an interesting opportunity for continued growth.

A cash-backed 6% yield

Bank note authentication and brand protection specialist Spectra Systems has one of the highest dividend yields on AIM, at 6.4%.

This tempting payout looks fairly safe, in my view. Spectra has no debt and generates plenty of cash each year, thanks to its 35% operating profit margin. I think the main reason these shares don’t trade much higher is that the company’s growth rate has been fairly slow in recent years.

Investors worry that demand for bank notes and Spectra’s services could fall in future years. But there’s no sign of that this year and I think new products such as a machine-readable plastic banknote material could support long-term demand.

This is a niche business, but as an income investor I’m tempted to add a few to my portfolio.

Pharma growth

Healthcare is one of the long-term growth themes in my portfolio. One less well-known company in this sector is Alliance Pharma (LSE: APH).

Alliance specialises in buying mature consumer healthcare products and improving their distribution and marketing. The firm’s share price has doubled over the last five years.

This business may not sound that exciting, but profit margins have averaged over 20% since 2016 and sales have nearly doubled over this period.

I think management is a key risk here – misjudged future acquisitions could hit profits and damage the group’s growth record.

For now, though, I remain bullish about this company. I’d be happy to tuck a few shares away for the next five years.

25% growth forecast at this stock

My final pick is currency exchange specialist Argentex (LSE: AGFX). This small-cap specialises in providing foreign exchange services to corporate and private clients.

The business is led by founder and CEO Harry Adams, who has a 12% shareholding in the business. I reckon this should mean his interests are well-aligned with those of shareholders.

Perhaps the biggest risk I can see is that this is a fast-growing, competitive market. Will Argentex end up as a long-term winner or an also-ran?

I don’t know, but broker forecasts suggest it could report 25% earnings growth this year. Based on these estimates, I think the shares look very cheap on eight times forecast earnings. This AIM stock is on my list as a potential buy.

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Roland Head has positions in Watkin Jones. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Alliance Pharma, Portmeirion Group, and Watkin Jones. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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