Taxable profits edged ahead 3 per cent to pounds 2.6m for the six months to 30 September, on sales up 5 per cent to pounds 21m. The interim dividend has been lifted by a better-than-expected 20 per cent to 6p from earnings of 34.5p against 30p a share.
Martin Pennington, finance director, said the result was good in view of depressed conditions in several key territories.
Although its London export trading arm and other UK activities performed strongly, the overall result was marred by the recession in North America and Continental Europe, particularly Canada and Germany.
But the group's steel stockholding businesses in Africa made a robust profits contribution. 'We have worked hard over the past few years to improve the UK operations by cutting out costs,' Mr Pennington said.
However, the results were accompanied by a cautious outlook. The company said the recession in Canada, which accounted for about 8 per cent of group turnover last year, was 'still horrendous'.
Mr Pennington said the impact of the devaluation of sterling over the past year had been 'neutral as it worked for and against us in different markets'.
The group is also on the lookout for small add-on acquisitions while concentrating on boosting sales in its existing markets.
Gerald Stuart-Lee, chairman, said: 'A strong performance from the London export trading division and UK subsidiaries earned susbtantially increased profits.
'This augmented contribution more than offset the lower returns from our overseas operations where the continuing recession has affected both volume and margins.'