ABP starts revamp to head off revolt

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Associated British Ports, the UK's largest port operator, yesterday launched a root and branch strategic review in an attempt to boost its lacklustre profits growth. The move was designed to head off a revolt from institutional investors after a disappointing share price performance, which has seen ABP's shares underperform the stock market by 20 per cent over the last 12 months.

However, ABP disappointed shareholders by ruling out a share buy-back or special dividend, sending the shares down a further 17.5p to 275p.

One institution said: "This is not good enough. They had better come up with something better in the review. The management are under pressure to perform."

Analysts believe that Sir Keith Stuart and Charles Orange, respectively ABP's chairman and finance director, could be forced to leave if the reforms end in failure. However, Sir Keith insisted the review would silence critics. "We are not resting on our laurels. We have bought in fresh blood. The process of renewal is already taking place," he said.

Andrew Smith, who joined the group in April to take control of the port operations, said ABP would consider overseas acquisitions and a diversification into other businesses.

Investment column, page 18