Companies in the news: BT and Merlin Entertainments

BT has staked its future on Premier League football, and the owners of Alton Towers are floating the company. Is it time to buy? Phil Oakley reports.

BT (BT.A)

By the look of things, BT's venture into football is paying off.During the last three months it gained 156,000 new broadband customers, or a 90% market share of new connections.

While lots of people have been focusing on football, BT quietly upped the ante last week by vastly improving its TV offer and cutting prices at the same time. In addition to Sky Movies, it also started offering the most popular children's channels over its internet TV service.

By signing up to its superfast broadband, customers who aren't too bothered about football can then gain access to most of the popular pay TV channels for just £10 a month and make some big savings compared with Sky.

665-BT

But it has certainly broadened the appeal of its TV product, which could lead to more profitable broadband contracts in the months ahead. All in all, the company looks like a solid investment.

Verdict: buy

Merlin Entertainments

initial public offerings (IPOs)

It has some very attractive assets, such as the Alton Towers and Legoland theme parks, plus Madame Tussauds and the London Eye, but there are lots of red flags for investors here.

Most notably, it is being sold by private-equity owners who are looking to cash out. The company is also loaded up with debt. Once the interest bills have been paid and the theme parks have been maintained, there will not be much money left over for shareholders.

Even in the middle of the 280p-330p flotation price range, the company will be valued at a racy 12 times its historic gross cash flow (EBITDA). Investors will already be paying upfront for many years profit growth ahead.

Verdict: this isn't the Royal Mail avoid

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