Business news in brief

Ultra beats forecast

Ultra Electronics, the specialist supplier of equipment to the Navy and Air Force, just beat its forecast profit of pounds 14.5m for 1996 made at the time the company floated last October. Turnover was up 27.1 per cent including organic growth of 17.5 per cent and, after an exceptional charge of pounds 600,000 attributed to the cost of providing staff shares in the float, profit before tax was pounds 14.1m, up from pounds 6.4m in 1995. Pro forma earnings per share jumped from 6.9p to 15.1p, compared with the 14.8p forecast last October, but as forecast there will be no dividend this year. An interim dividend will be paid in October. The shares fell 4p to 278.5p.

Johnston Press ahead

Johnston Press, the regional newspaper group, reported pre-tax profits before exceptional items of pounds 23.5m, up from pounds 16.8m in 1995. Analysts said this year should see a further improvement, with advertising strong and cover sales rising. There will also be a first time contribution from the newspaper titles acquired from Emap for pounds 211m last July.

UniChem buys pharmacies

Moss Chemists, the retail division of UniChem, has bought two community pharmacies in Essex and Northumberland for up to pounds 716,000. The deal will increase the number of Moss outlets in Britain to 459.

Building contractor joins AIM

Bickerton Group, a building contractor in the public and private sectors, said it is joining the Alternative Investment Market with a placing of up to 5.1 million ordinary shares at 40p. Dealings in the oversubscribed issue start on Friday. In the eight months to December, the group achieved pre-tax profits of pounds 226,000 on turnover of pounds 16.2m.

Falling demand hinders UDO

Interim pre-tax profits for UDO Holdings fell to pounds 2.27m from pounds 3.17m. Chairman Mike Wright blamed falling demand in the goods and supplies business. "With the benefit of hindsight we might have reacted more quickly to the falling demand and operational problems," he said. Earnings per share were down to 5.09p from 7.25p. The interim dividend was maintained at 2.75p.

Fee revenue boost for Shandwick

Shandwick's pre-tax profits in the first four months of the current financial year are ahead of the same period a year earlier on the back of an 11.3 per cent increase in comparable fee revenues, chairman Lord Chadlington said at yesterday's annual meeting. He added that like-for-like revenues should grow at more than 10 per cent this year, with a particularly strong performance in the US.

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