The Motley Fool

Should you buy, sell or hold BP plc, Halma plc and Watchstone Group plc?

The price of safety

Health and safety technology group Halma (LSE: HLMA) released its annual results today. The shares are trading a little down, and at 934p the FTSE 250 firm is valued at £3.5bn.

Halma posted record numbers. Revenue of £808m was 11% up on last year, and ahead of a consensus forecast of £800m, while earnings advanced 10% to 34.26p, versus an analyst consensus of 33.8p. The board lifted the annual dividend by 7%, extending the company’s impressive payout history to 37 consecutive years of increases of 5% or more.

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Chief executive Andrew Williams said: “The resilience and diversity of our markets, long-term growth drivers and business model give us confidence that we can continue to grow in today’s varied market conditions”.

Non-cyclical, with good cash generation and a robust balance sheet, Halma is highly attractive to investors. The company trades on 27.3 times trailing earnings, compared with 17.2 for the FTSE 250 as a whole, while the dividend yield of 1.4% is half that of the mid-cap market.

The valuation appears a little high, but with annual earnings set to continue advancing at around 10%, Halma is a solid hold in my opinion.

Special situation

There was also news today from AIM-listed Watchstone (LSE: WTG), the renamed and remaining rump of the notorious Quindell, which sold most of its assets to Australian firm Slater & Gordon over a year ago.

Watchstone’s new board has cleared up most of the past mess. Today’s news of a payment of $2.75m to settle litigation relating to an old acquisition concludes one of a few outstanding matters.

The shares are trading at 207p, valuing the company at around £95m. Watchstone has cash of about £85m, management is “confident” of receiving a further £50m from an escrow account (relating to the Slater & Gordon deal) and I reckon the viable businesses among its remaining operations can be valued at around £55m. So, by my calculations, the company is worth double its current market value.

I reckon the old Quindell directors will bear the brunt of a Serious Fraud Office investigation, while compensation claims from some ex-shareholders — currently amounting to less than £10m — may or may not come to anything. I believe the difference between my calculation of the company’s intrinsic value and the market value gives a sufficiently wide margin of safety to make the shares a buy.

Good long-term prospects

Fines and compensation claims were a reality for FTSE 100 giant  BP (LSE: BP) following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. But as those issues began to be resolved, along came the great collapse in the price of oil from over $100 a barrel to less than $30 to give investors another major headache. Oil has rallied from the lows, reaching over $50 last week, but sentiment remains fragile, and traders jittery.

I take a long-term with the big oil companies, and ask myself: Is it better to buy their shares when oil is trading at over $100 and everybody is happy to buy, or is it better to buy when oil is $30, $40, $50 and many investors have been scared off?

I believe BP has good long-term prospects. A dividend yield north of 7% may not be the safest in the market, but I reckon the shares, depressed at 365p, are a good buy if you’re looking to invest for years and decades, rather than weeks and months.

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G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BP. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.