Bentalls cuts payout after sterling crisis sends sales down

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BENTALLS, the stores group, halved its dividend to 1.9p after losing almost pounds 1m before tax in the 12 months to 30 January, against a profit of pounds 1.4m the previous year, writes John Murray.

Edward Bentall, the chairman, blamed the fall-off in retail sales following the sterling crisis in September but said sales had begun to recover.

'The tentative return in consumer confidence that appeared in the middle of last year was extinguished by the sterling crisis and did not reappear,' he said. 'Trading in the second half was flat and we suffered a poor Christmas.

'But sales in the main store at Kingston are up 5 1/2 per cent on last year at the moment, but we need to do even better than that,' he said.

Sales at the company's Lakeside development at Thurrock, Essex, were growing even faster - 18 per cent higher than last year, he said. Bentalls suffered heavy losses at Lakeside after acquiring the centre in 1991, but Mr Bentall said he hoped it would be breaking even by the end of this year.

Interest payments trebled to pounds 1.1m, reflecting the cost of Bentalls' building programme. But two-thirds of the units in the Bentall Centre, developed in association with Norwich Union, had been let, and Bentalls was guaranteed a rental income of pounds 1.65m this year, Mr Bentall said. This was expected to rise to pounds 2.1m in 1996.

Borrowings were reduced by the sale in November of the charge card business to GE Capital, but the properties lost 10 per cent of their value in a revaluation carried out in January. Added to the losses, that produced a pounds 13m fall in shareholders' funds to pounds 56.8m. Borrowings amount to about pounds 20m.

The loss per share was 0.28p against earnings of 2.21p the previous year. The shares fell 9p to 108p.