Best AIM companies of 2016 named

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Best AIM companies of 2016 named
This year's much-anticipated AIM Awards are being held on 13 October. The shortlist has been revealed and there are a wide range of companies in contention this year.

Best investor communication

The shortlist for the award, which is sponsored by broker Northland Capital Partners, includes gemstone miner Gemfields (GEM), university generated businesses funder and developer Imperial Innovations (IVO), animal feed, food distribution and fuel supply company NWF (NWF) and project management consultancy WYG (WYG).

Imperial Innovations was last year's winner and it is back to defend its title - the only one of the 2015 winners to have this chance. The company has raised more money to invest in early stage businesses and continues to exploit its contacts with Imperial University, as well as Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Gemfields is known for its employment of actress Mila Kunis to promote the company and its Faberge brand in the past couple of years.

NWF was the winner of this award in 2011. It has always been consistent in providing information for investors so that they can understand the performance of the divisions and the backgrounds to those performances.

WYG has required good investor communications in recent years because of the need to turn around the business from a loss-making position. That has been done and the business is flourishing. There has also been the challenge of communicating and agreeing with shareholders a new management incentive package.

Best guess: WYG

AIM growth business of the year

It is no great surprise that spirits mixers supplier Fevertree Drinks (FEVR) is the most nominated company, having won newcomer of the year in 2015 and given its share price has continued to outperform. And the first of these nominations is in this new category sponsored by the government's Business Growth Fund.

Fevertree has grown rapidly, but the share price still seems to defy gravity, even after early shareholders have sold shares. Dart Group (DTG) has a much longer history and more recent growth has come from its budget airline and related travel activities. Business communications services provider Gamma Communications (GAMA) has grown consistently both before and after flotation, while telematics technology supplier Quartix (QTX) has supplemented its fleet growth by international expansion and installations for the insurance industry.

Best guess: Fevertree Drinks

AIM transaction of the year

This is an award that offers a number of different types of transaction. Blancco Technology (BLTG) sold its original core electronic repairs business to concentrate on its fast-growing data erasure and security operations. Part of the proceeds of the disposal were returned to shareholders and the rest is being used to grow the remaining business.

Aggregates supplier Breedon (BREE) announced the £336 million acquisition of Hope Construction Materials late last year, but completion was delayed by the competition authorities. Breedon had to sell 14 ready-mixed concrete plants for the deal to go ahead. This deal made Breedon, which started as AIM shell Marwyn Materials in 2008, into the UK's largest construction materials supplier.

At the turn of the year, fibre optic infrastructure developer CityFibre Infrastructure Holdings (CITY) paid £90 million for KCOM's network assets outside of the Hull area - a 45% discount on what it would cost to replicate them - and raised £80 million at 50p a share. This makes CityFibre more than five years ahead of where it would be in terms of organic growth and gives it a national presence.

MP Evans (MPE) has sold its cattle assets at a profit of $7.38 million and is concentrating on its Indonesian oil palm plantations. Net debt was $6.7 million at the end of June 2016, but the final disposal proceeds received in July were $79.7 million - with an estimated tax charge of $13.8 million payable on this figure. This provides cash to spend on land and planting oil palm.

Best guess: Breedon

Best use of AIM

Conviviality (CVR) was a franchised off-licence chain when it joined AIM in 2013 and since then it has acquired drinks wholesalers Matthew Clark and Bibendum. This made Conviviality into a leading on-trade and off-trade wholesaler of alcohol and soft drinks.

Identity verification services provider GB Group (GBG) has made a number of acquisitions since it moved from the Main Market. The latest is IDscan Biometrics, which uses facial biometrics in tandem with documentation to verify a person's identity.

Keywords Studios (KWS) is a consolidator of localisation, artwork and other services for the video games sector. It has already built up a track record of earnings enhancing acquisitions and been rewarded with a premium rating.

Document storage services provider Restore (RST) has the most chequered past of all the four companies in this category. It was transformed from an underperforming, more wide-ranging services business by Charles Skinner and focused on becoming a consolidator in the document storage services sector.

Best guess: Keywords Studios

Best technology

The best technology shortlist includes three newly floated companies and is dominated by the pharma sector. Graphene products developer Directa Plus (DCTA) is the odd one out and the most recent AIM entrant in the list. Cell engineering technology developer MaxCyte Inc (MXCT) and cancer detection company Oncimmune (ONC) both floated a few weeks before Directa Plus.

Human biome-based obesity, high cholesterol and skin treatments developer OptiBiotix (OPTI) has made significant progress in two years and signed deals with the likes of WeightWatchers, as well as having a joint venture that supplies GoFigure weight loss products to retailers including Whole Food Market in the UK. There are plans to split off individual areas of the business into separate, focused companies.

Futura Medical (FUM) has been around the longest, but just before the deliberations over the award winners it released news that erectile dysfunction treatment MED202 had successfully demonstrated efficacy, safety and speed of use in clinical trials. That could have swung the judges.

Best guess: Futura

Best newcomer

Flotations have been limited, but the quality has generally been good. Chocolate retailer Hotel Chocolat (HOTC) is probably the highest profile flotation in the past year. The consumer recognition of the brand helped it get a high rating. It also means that it could be in the running for this award.

British fashion brand Joules Group (JOUL) is profitable and well established. The cash raised will be used to roll-out further stores in the UK and to expand internationally.

Blue Prism (PRSM) supplies software robots that are used to automate back office tasks and the flotation has raised its profile. Banks and other large companies are customers and they provide long-term recurring income. The robotic process automation group is the only company on the shortlist that is losing money although that is due to investment to break into the US market.

Student accommodation developer Watkin Jones (WJG) is the safe bet in this category. Watkin Jones has been trading for more than two centuries but it focused on its current core business at the turn of this millennium. It finds UK sites, secures planning permission and then the land is forward sold to institutions. Watkin Jones constructs the accommodation and, more recently, it has offered management services.

Best guess: Watkin Jones

Entrepreneur of the year

Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow of Fevertree are up against Anthony Best of AB Dynamics (ABD), Diana Hunter of Conviviality and Richard Law of GB Group (GBG) in this category. The only one whose company is not up for another award is Anthony Best.

Anthony Best is the founder of AB Dynamics, a truly international automotive testing and consultancy business investing in new premises in order to cope with growing demand. The new factory will be completed in 2017. There is a joint venture with Williams F1 to develop an advanced dynamic vehicle simulator.

Best guess: Anthony Best

International company of the year

India-focused power generator OPG Power Ventures (OPG) and construction equipment manufacturer Somero Enterprises (SOM) Inc have both returned to the shortlist for the international company of the year. They are joined by bananas importer Fyffes (FFY) and investment company Burford Capital (BUR).

I thought Somero would win this last year and its continued growth in international markets and improved profitability would make it a worthy winner.

Best guess: Somero Enterprises

AIM company of the year

The candidates are Fevertree Drinks, software and consultancy services provider First Derivatives (FDP), document storage services provider Restore (RST) and replacement windows supplier Safestyle UK (SFE).

Safestyle and Fevertree have won the best newcomer award in the past two years and that can be an indication that they have a good chance. Safestyle recently reported strong results in a relatively tough period for the replacement windows market and it believes that it is winning market share. Strongly cash generative, Safestyle is investing in additional capacity.

Restore has successfully built up its document storage operations over the past decade (see Best use of AIM).

Software and consultancy firm First Derivatives has an impressive record of profit and dividend growth and this is reflected in the share price performance. Management is diversifying the client base away from the financial services sector by using its software in additional areas. The long-term track record could give the Northern Ireland-based First Derivatives the edge.

Best guess: First Derivatives

This article is for information and discussion purposes only and does not form a recommendation to invest or otherwise. The value of an investment may fall. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.