Blue Circle to reopen Northfleet kiln

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BLUE Circle is to reopen its Northfleet cement kiln less than two years after it was mothballed as part of a retrenchment of the company's UK manufacturing operation, writes Tom Stevenson.

Keith Orrell-Jones, managing director, said the decision reflected a surge in large building projects in London rather than a pick-up in overall demand for cement. But he was confident that last month's 4 per cent price rise would stick.

Announcing a 77 per cent jump in pre-tax profits from pounds 93.8m to pounds 165.6m, he said UK concrete volumes rose less than 1 per cent while prices fell slightly.

Profits growth was driven by strong demand in the US, where capacity constraints mean imports will begin for the first time since the late 1980s. Overall heavy building materials profits increased by 42 per cent to pounds 137.7m.

Home products, mainly domestic boilers, radiators and bathrooms, edged ahead from pounds 60.2m to pounds 64.4m, although price competition continued to dog the UK heating operations and France and Germany remained weak.

There was a loss of pounds 8.3m in the waste management division, which included pounds 11.4m of provisions, closure costs and write-downs at an incineration joint venture that is being wound down.

The property arm saw a swing from last year's pounds 13.6m loss to a pounds 4.8m profit as last year's write- downs on a housing joint venture in Essex were eliminated.

Mr Orrell-Jones said a proposed out-of-town shopping centre near the M25 in Kent would go ahead as soon as funding was finalised. About half the centre's planned 1.5 million square feet has been pre-let.

Earnings per share rose from 4p to 14.5p. The dividend was maintained at 11.25p.