ABP, the UK's biggest ports company, made pounds 62.1m before tax against losses of pounds 36.6m. The 1992 loss included a writedown of pounds 83.6m against its property portfolio.
Sir Keith Stuart, chairman, said the result was a dramatic turnaround from the previous year. 'We cleared the decks with the property provisions and are now set fair to perform well on a sustained basis in the years ahead.'
He added that the economy appeared to be strengthening, with rising volumes of trade going through the ports. But the ports division's profits slipped back pounds 5m to pounds 55.9m last year after redundancy costs that doubled to pounds 8m.
'There has been a marked upturn in the last few months, which has been continuing strongly into the new year,' Sir Keith said. 'Timber imports rose 20 per cent last year, which suggests a stronger housing and building market,' he said.
Overall tonnage passing through ABP's ports, which include Southampton, Plymouth, Hull and Grimsby, rose by just 1 million tonnes to 106 million tonnes, but Sir Keith said margins had improved. The strong rises in cars, shipping and timber were offset by a fall in coal and other fuel imports.
The investment property division recorded a jump in profits from pounds 9.1m to pounds 10.9m, while port- related property provided income of pounds 20.7m, a rise of pounds 600,000.
ABP is increasingly concentrating on investments close to the ports since the problems suffered after the crash in the development market in the early 1990s.
Sir Keith said ABP was not very interested in acquiring any of the trust ports earmarked for privatisation. 'We believe we have enough scope for organic growth.'
The group also announced plans to spend pounds 13m building three more roll-on/roll-off berths at Immingham to service DFDS, the large Danish shipping group, on a long- term contract.
ABP also announced a one-for- one scrip issue, the third since the group's flotation in 1983. The total dividend rises from 8.5p to 9.3p on earnings per share of 25.5p (14.3p loss). The shares jumped 11p to 582p on the results but fell back to close just a penny higher at 572p.