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Amstrad results find Sugar bittersweet

Do you get the feeling that Amserve has got Alan's attention?

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Amstrad has released its year-end results and ole Alan Sugar the indomitable chairman is pleased... to report "excellent progress". Gross profit is £15.4 million - 85 per cent higher than last year. Oh, that's excluding Amserve's £2.3 million loss.

And this is the interesting thing about this year's results - an almost obsessive concentration on Amserve. Considering the subsidiary, which makes the e-m@iler - an all-in-one phone, fax, emailer - is only a part of Amstrad's business, it is a little odd that over half the chairman's speech is taken up with explaining why Amserve is actually really good and what a success it will be. Its figures are also listed separately.

But we'll get to that in a minute. Here's all the financial stuff: sales are up 34 per cent to £126.2 million (22 per cent with Amserve incl.), divided more than doubled to 1.5p, um, earnings per share up to 11.3p from 7.5p. You may be interested to know that Amstrad has more than doubled its debtors this year - now £38.7 million from £18.1 million - and cash has stepped down about £5 million to £14.5 million.

But back to Amserve. Sugar was in pains to point out why it hadn't been as successful as people predicted and waxed lyrical about what a revolutionary product the e-m@iler is. Dixons liked it and bought 20 per cent in June for £3 million plus £12 million worth of distribution support. But does Amstrad protest too much? Looking back over previous stories, a pattern emerges - every comment appears to consist of a denial followed by hype for how great e-m@iler is.

Is it though? Is e-m@iler an abject failure? We're not really sure whether we like the idea of a phone/fax/email machine. But that aside, we definitely don't like the 12p an email charge. We did some maths back in March and reckoned the machine could tack on £150 a month to your bills. At that rate, you won't find much of a market. But Alan assures us that it has great potential. Time and again. The company is pushing through with it though and plans a large TV and press ad campaign shortly.

Sugar is obviously hoping e-m@iler will come good. If it does, he'll be held aloft again as a master eye for new technology, if it doesn't, he'll be left with an embarrassing hole in his finances. ®

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