Balkan conflict boosts Wardle

WARDLE STOREYS, the maker of parachutes and lifeboats, is expecting demand for its inflatable buildings to rise as a result of the Balkan refugee crisis.

The company yesterday said it donated an inflatable tent worth around pounds 50,000 to refugees fleeing Kosovo. Wardle added that it would increase production of the PVC-made buildings, which can be used as temporary hospitals and shelters, to meet an expected rise in orders from former Yugoslavia.

The importance of inflatable tents, used by armies around the world to store tanks and aircrafts, to Wardle's profits was underlined by its interim results yesterday. The company posted a slight drop in first-half profits to pounds 5.3m on turnover down 4.9 per cent to pounds 55.4m.

A strong rise in sales of inflatable buildings, liferafts and parachutes offset a slump in the technical products division. This subsidiary, making car interiors and plastic parts for fridges, was hit by a sharp slowdown in the automotive industry. Its profits collapsed nearly 44 per cent to pounds 1.7m, as car makers cut back on production amid the Latin American and Asian financial turmoils.

The chief executive, Brian Taylor, said the company reacted quickly to the market's downturn, cutting over 150 jobs from the division's 900-strong workforce. The redundancies led to a pounds 350,000 exceptional cost, but should yield benefits of pounds 800,000 from next year. The figures led to a 10p fall in the shares to 410p.

However, analysts said Wardle's long-term future should be secured by several long contracts. Wardle is the only company in the world to have regulatory approval to make liferafts for ferries, a market valued at around pounds 30m over the next five years. It also has contracts to upgrade the US army's parachutes and the US navy's submarine escape systems.

The main risk is that the supply of defence contracts may dry up as governments cut back on spending. But with the car parts division set to recover and the shares on just 10 times 1999 earnings of around pounds 15m, Wardle is worth a look.

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