Associated British Ports' management yesterday delivered a 29.3 per cent jump in taxable profits to £80.3m (£62m), revealed a continuing 40 per cent return on sales, and admitted: "To a great extent we don't control the business."
Sir Keith Stuart, chairman, added that ABP could not create extra volumes going through its 22 ports in areas ranging from coal to building materials, but could attempt to gain a bigger market share. Observers have long regarded the group as tracking the general state of the British economy as it is responsible for 25 per cent of seaborne trade.
In 1994, total trade handled by its ports, ranging from Southampton and Hull to Grimsby and Immingham, rose 4 million tonnes to 110 million tonnes, with increases in timber, steel, minerals and petroleum. There was also strong growth in the container business and in exports and imports of cars.
ABP's significant property interests - now about a third of the business - performed well. Port-related property income rose to £23.9m (£20.7m), property investment income advanced to £12.3m (£10.9m), and property development increased to £3m (£1.3m).
A final dividend of 3.5p gives a total payout of 5.5p - up 18.3 per cent. Sir Keith said: "Our strong performance in 1994 augurs well for the future. The ports are attracting new business on a substantial scale, underpinning strong investment-led growth." Capital expenditure on ABP's ports continues to run at about £47m a year.
The group also announced a new 25 year agreement with British Steel for that company to continue using ABP's Port Talbot Tidal Harbour for large bulk carriers of imported iron ore, coal and other minerals.
ABP also said the regeneration of Cardiff Bay, in which it is a participant, continues to progress well.