It's cocktail hour in London, and Denver money manager Bruce B. Bee is bellying up to the bar at a pub near Liverpool Station. But this is not entirely recreation. The pub is part of the fast-growing JD Wetherspoon PLC chain, and Bee has stopped off to chat with the CEO and get a taste of what the company's up to. At $5.66 a share and a price-earnings ratio of 20, Bee concedes, Wetherspoon is rather expensive. But "it's one of the few interesting specialty-restaurant and bar plays in Britain."
Small-cap companies such as Wetherspoon are Bee's bread and butter. Bee, a 53-year-old former venture capitalist, and partner Edward N. McMillan, 46, once chief of First Boston Asset Management Corp., ferret out overlooked equities for wealthy individuals--and for institutions, including the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clients have entrusted Bee & Associates Inc. with about $100 million, and Bee's small stocks have produced big winnings. For the five years ended Mar. 31, Bee earned investors an average of 20.1% annually, nearly three times the return of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. So far this year, Bee is up 8.5%.
SWISS FAVORITE. One reason: Disillusioned by the high prices of small companies in the U.S., Bee in recent months has moved 85% of his assets from the U.S. to Europe, Asia, and Latin America in search of better values. A large share of that has gone into Scandinavia. One favorite is Skne-Gripen, a Swedish building-materials maker that sells much of its output in Germany and sports a p-e of only 9. He also likes Benefon, which trades in Helsinki. Benefon has built up a tidy trade in analog cellular-phone gear and is going digital. Its profits may be up 30% in 1994, but its p-e is only 7.
Skis Rossignol, the French ski maker, is another holding. Bee says it "opened up tremendous opportunities" by shifting production from France to Italy and Spain to cut labor costs. And since Bee is an avid skier, it's no surprise that he owns the stock. For Bee, business and pleasure can often mix to produce a profitable outcome.