BTR shares climb on profit increase

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The Independent Online
BTR's shares jumped 19p to 425p as it announced profits of pounds 548m before tax for the six months to 30 June, up from pounds 512m, despite continuing recession.

Profits were about pounds 30m higher than expected, benefiting from the acquisition of Hawker Siddeley last year and higher productivity. Sales rose by a third to pounds 4.3bn.

About 10,400 jobs have been shed in the past year, including 5,500 at Hawker Siddeley. Volumes fell, especially in UK construction.

Alan Jackson, the chief executive, said the group had reduced the value of Hawker Siddeley by a further pounds 160m, bringing the total written off the broad engineering group to pounds 380m, compared with an original asset value of pounds 750m.

Part of the latest reduction reflected provisions for a contract to produce engines for the Channel tunnel trains. Another pounds 50m was for a reduction in value of properties.

Kathy Donovan, finance director, said BTR had not made the full provision at the year-end because it had not wanted to overprovide at that stage, when the outcome of a review was uncertain.

Pre-tax profits included pounds 46m ( pounds 84m) net profits on disposals that included a stake in Pilkington, Rockware Printing and Richmond Power.

The dividend is up from 7.5p to 7.75p a share, easily covered by earnings of 17.7p a share, up from 17.4p.

In addition the company is distributing warrants to shareholders. These give them the rights to buy further shares in 1997.

The issue of extra shares acts as a source of extra cash for the company.

Robert Faircloth, the chief operating officer, said demand for aggregates in the UK was falling and business in Germany was getting worse but the US was 'just about' where it was last year. Only Mexico was robust.

Construction was 'more cyclical than we would like,' he said, but BTR would ride out the downturn. Companies in other parts of the group might be sold.

Capital spending was pounds 186m in the first half but is expected to fall in the second half. Mr Jackson said that while the benefits of past projects had yet to emerge, the opportunities for increasing efficiency much further were limited.

The company is working on a range of new products, including batteries for battery-driven cars, diagnostic kits that make use of DNA strands that have bound to the surface of polystyrene, and new seals.

Interest charges rose from pounds 57m to pounds 97m but the ratio of borrowings to shareholders' funds fell from 89 per cent at the year-end to 79 per cent on 30 June. Ms Donovan expects it to fall further in the second half.

The group will be ready to make another large acquisition next year, according to Mr Jackson.

(Photograph omitted)