it’s dangerous to guess which way markets will go, so we’ll stick with the likes of Grafton

Such lopsided markets are not necessarily healthy ones and such concentration brings to mind the “Nifty Fifty” names of the early Seventies, into which investors herded for safety, regardless of valuation, until the inevitable final reckoning in the bear market of 1973-74.

Given all of these issues, this column is inclined to try to do as little as possible, since its crystal ball is no better than anyone else’s and therefore just as prone to error. No one knows what is coming next and guessing could prove expensive.

It still makes sense to try to buy well placed, well managed stocks where both valuation and balance sheet provide protection should things go wrong and the outbreak, lockdown and resulting economic malaise all last longer than hoped.

This was the case with Harworth we hope (and this column is indebted to those readers who pointed out that the property firm is actually listed on the main market and not quoted on Aim, as erroneously stated here last week). This strategy also brings us back to Grafton, the builders’ merchant, where this column continues to keep the faith.

While the position is still in loss overall relative to our purchase price in July last year, the shares can at least boast a gain of nearly 20pc since our last look at the company in March, even though analysts have cut their forecasts for 2020’s sales and profits by a fifth and a half respectively since the imposition of the lockdown that month.

This advance reflects a resumption in activity as the lockdown eases and building and construction activity restarts. Last week’s trading update showed that Grafton’s revenues were down by 80pc in April but by “just” 38pc in May; that improvement came even as some sites opened only in the middle of the month and some remained closed.

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