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BOC hit by 22% slide in turnover

TRADING CONDITIONS for BOC remain tough in the first quarter of the current financial year. Turnover was down 22 per cent and profit before tax fell 9 per cent to pounds 93.5m.

Including joint ventures and associates, and excluding businesses that have been sold, turnover at the industrial gases group was still down 8 per cent and operating profit down 10 per cent at pounds 104.4m.

The long-term restructuring and cost-saving programme that hammered last year's profits is on track to start contributing pounds 50m to profit in the current year and pounds 120m a year in due course, the chief executive Danny Rosencrantz said yesterday.

Margins in the industrial gases division remain steady in spite of a drop in demand from the steel industry, and its operating profit was down just 1 per cent at pounds 94.4m.

There are signs that the vacuum technology division which supplies the worldwide semi-conductor industries has turned the corner in spite of a slump in profits to just pounds 1.6m.

The distribution business produced an operating profit of pounds 7.9m, an improvement of 27 per cent.

The adverse impact of the strong pound is visibly fading, and should be cut to pounds 6m if rates remain at their current level. But the market did not entirely share the company's confidence and the shares fell 67p to 796p.

The first quarter figures were below most forecasts and significantly below some.

Even the optimists were disappointed at the severity of competition in the United States and the poor returns in vacuum technology and could see no real sign of a return to easier business conditions.

Forecasts for the current year have been downgraded from pounds 415m to around pounds 390m, and earnings of 54.3p, and pounds 415m and 57.5p next year.

Even after the setback yesterday the shares are trading on 14-times future earnings, which looks high enough in current conditions.