British Vita warns of 'zero growth'

BRITISH VITA, provider of plastic and foam items for domestic and industrial use, said yesterday it was in a 'zero growth position'.

Trading profits came to a standstill for the half-year to 30 June.

Bob McGee, chairman, said the company's drive to maintain market share had obliged it to reduce margins. Profits at the operating level fell to pounds 24.5m from pounds 24.7m.

The company also suffered continued losses in its small Spanish operation and from a downturn in demand for its bedding and furniture goods in Germany and the Netherlands.

However, Vita's pre-tax profits rose 11 per cent to pounds 26.8m, benefiting from a much reduced interest charge.

The lower interest payments followed the company's March rights issue, which raised pounds 70m. The money has been earmarked to fund an acquisition programme that has yet to begin.

Mr McGee said Vita had turned away from three possible purchases that were being considered when the rights issue was launched because the prices asked were too high.

He said he had expected to have spent some of the rights cash by now, but he was in no rush. Opportunities for buying recession- stricken companies abounded.

Manchester-based Vita is renowned for its positioning in Europe. But Mr McGee said he cared little about he outcome of the French referendum on the Maastricht agreement because the company's Continental operations were self-contained in the countries where they were based.

The company was tackling stagnation by exploring new markets and introducing new products to its established markets.

The chase for market share has also led to a rise in debtors.

A half-year abridged balance sheet showed Vita had pounds 140m of debtors at 30 June compared with pounds 127m a year earlier. However, bad debts had not increased significantly.

The shares reacted to the gloomy trading news by falling 5p to 219p. They are below a record high of 292p in May this year, but have steadily outperformed the FT all-share index since the start of 1990.

Earnings per share - helped by the interest credit and adjusted for the rights issue - rose to 7.9p from 7.7p.

The interim dividend is lifted to 3.5p from 3.45p.