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BEST OF THE BROKERS

BHP BILLITON
Standard & Poor’s says that BHP’s first-half earnings were stronger than expected, although still 28 per cent lower year-on- year. The broker agrees with the group’s statement that China is key to short-term prospects, and thinks that concerns over monetary tightening are overdone. Maintains its “Buy” recommendation.

PUNCH TAVERNS
Collins Stewart’s target price of 146p is almost double the current share price. It sees Punch’s debt burden, viewed by most as negative, as an opportunity with no need to refinance and potential to buy back at a discount. Believes unfavourable comparisons with Enterprise’s leased estate is misplaced, and will even out over time.

F&C ASSET MANAGEMENT
Numis thinks F&C’s shares look attractive in the long term despite weak performance this year. Notes that the disappointing growth in assets under management has already been factored into consensus forecasts. Numis offers a target price of 83p, and upgrades its recommendation from “Add” to “Buy”.