Take a punt on this matchmaker

The online dating market is growing as more and more singletons turn to technology looking for cheap ways to find a match. Tim Bennett picks one of the leading operators in the sector.

During a recession, everyone wants more for less. Which is great news for online dating agencies. According to comScore, five million people visited British dating sites during September, creating what they call a "recession boom".

And it's not difficult to see why. Traditional dating is expensive and pretty unreliable. Some singletons head out optimistically with a bunch of mates, drink lots and then try and make coherent conversation with someone they think they like the look of in an darkened, overcrowded bar or nightclub.

Or they rely on friends to set them up with someone thought to be a fabulous match, but who turns out to be a dull, unattractive, inappropriate - or all three.

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Worse, there are dating agencies out there that will happily relieve you of £1,000 or more just to sign up in the (often vain) hope that a so-called "consultant" can do a better job.

Enter online dating.

First, you get to screen a potential date online and vice versa. Next so I am told - not only do you get to view lots of potential matches online, it's also far cheaper than paying for an expensive offline dating agency. A typical internet-based service charges £30 a month for membership - about the price of a large round of drinks.

And for investors, this market has several pulls - it is not only growing, but also becoming more sophisticated. As the Economist noted recently, broadband access is increasing, web cams are becoming more popular and phones are getting smarter. Meanwhile, as dole queues continue to lengthen, more and more singletons are likely to turn to technology to provide cheap ways to date.

So what to buy? Like singletons, investors could do worse than turn to the French for help. Meetic (PA:MEET) runs a range of online dating services around Europe and also now owns the UK's number one dating site datingdirect.com. The latest nine-month revenues rose 20.8% on a year ago, and it trades on a price-earnings ratio of around 16. Not a stock to bet the farm on, but so far this year a pretty reliable recession beater.

Tim graduated with a history degree from Cambridge University in 1989 and, after a year of travelling, joined the financial services firm Ernst and Young in 1990, qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1994.

He then moved into financial markets training, designing and running a variety of courses at graduate level and beyond for a range of organisations including the Securities and Investment Institute and UBS. He joined MoneyWeek in 2007.