Booker profits hit by strong pound

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The Independent Online
Booker, the cash and carry group which acquired the rival Nurdin & Peacock group last year, disappointed the market yesterday with lower profits hit by a fall in salmon prices and the effects of the strong pound. Charles Bowen, chief executive, said that if sterling continued at current levels it would knock pounds 7m from full year profits.

Booker shares fell 29.5p to 287.5p as analysts downgraded their profit forecasts. However, Mr Bowen was upbeat about the performance of the cash and carry operation and said the integration of Nurdin & Peacock was ahead of schedule.

Additional costs have been taken out of the business and Mr Bowen said Booker would fulfil its pledge of paying down pounds 100m of debt by the end of 1998. Debt at the half year was pounds 382m, unchanged from last full year.

Mr Bowen said Booker was considering the future of 22 more depots but said jobs lost in any further closures would be offset by jobs created as the company completes its move towards central distribution.

Group pre-tax profits before exceptional items fell from pounds 24.7m to pounds 22m. The dumping of Norwegian salmon and the strong pound caused UK agribusiness profits to fall from pounds 10m to pounds 3m. The company has set up joint ventures to open cash and carry operations in Thailand and Malaysia.