My, my, my! There’s nothing like a refreshing Crimbo break followed by a wallet-scorching trip to the sales.
After picking up a couple of pinstripe suits at rock-bottom prices I feel fully prepared to do battle with the Square Mile once more.

Talking of bargains, Santa hasn’t necessarily been that kind to all of the industry’s stocks over the festive season, despite them all being very good little boys and girls last year, I’m sure. So now might be the time to invest whatever money is left from the festive season in a few cheapo stocks.

Take Birse, for instance. A lack of enthusiasm from the chaps and chapettes in the City caused its price to drop in two of the past three weeks to close last Friday at 13.5p. This was despite announcing an interim pre-tax profit of £1.8m last month – a turnaround from being nearly £4m in the red at the same stage last year. Would it be wise to pick up the shares at their relatively paltry price, assuming this improvement continues? I think so – but then it does seem like last year since I got anything right.

Megaconsultant Atkins has also dropped over the past two weeks, albeit marginally at 0.5% and 0.1% to finish at 465p at close of play last Friday. This may not be the sort of loss-leader that naturally attracts the avid bargain hunter, but I reckon this is one to take a good look at. Atkins chairman Mike Jeffries is convinced 2004 is to be a glowing year. Should we doubt him? Perhaps – it is after all only 15 months since the company announced a profit warning. But Jeffries did promise to turn the company around, and has so far succeeded in being on course to wipe out Atkins’ debt. Maybe not the bargain of the century, but I think this stock has a long way to rise this year.

A less obviously tasty morsel is Laing. Last week alone it soared 7.6% to reach a still mouthwatering 185p. Why so saliva-inducing? Well, in two months’ time the support services group should be set to announce its full-year results. In March 2003 it registered a pre-tax loss of £18.6m.

Fairbriar will announce its prelims at the end of January – will it also announce a management buyout?

Hunch of the week

But Building’s finance pages made the bold prediction – well, blatantly repeated the forecast of a leading

City analyst – that Laing’s share price would hit two quid by the same

time in 2004. In less than 10 months it has gone up by about 60p. And I reckon it will hit the magical 200 by results time.