Cautious comments push Marley lower

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A MAINTAINED dividend and cautious comments on building material prices pushed shares in Marley 10p lower to 195p yesterday despite a quadrupling in underlying profits at the plastics and concrete products group.

David Trapnell, chief executive, said published figures for the year to December, which showed a fall from a pounds 4.6m pre-tax profit to a pounds 1.1m loss, were misleading.

They included a pounds 33.2m write-off of goodwill relating to two brick businesses that were transferred last October to Tarmac in exchange for a tile company.

New accounting standards mean that goodwill, which was previously written off against reserves, has to be taken through the profit and loss account on disposal.

At the trading level, a three-year cost-cutting programme began to take effect in the year to December, with adjusted profits rising from pounds 8.1m to pounds 32.1m. All three divisions recorded better results.

Concrete and clay products returned to the black after improving market conditions in both the US and UK increased volumes. Mr Trapnell said new house sales were higher in all its main markets.

He warned, however, that prices remained up to 25 per cent lower than during the building boom of the late 1980s. Rises of between 5 and 7 per cent in prices for tiles, blocks and paving stones were being pushed through but it was not yet clear whether they would stick.

Plumbing and flooring, now the dominant division, increased both sales and profits after the launch of several new products. Automotive components, whose products include the instrument panel for the new Ford Mondeo, benefited from increasing registrations in the UK.

Including the goodwill write-off, there was a loss per share of 4.4p (0.5p loss) and the dividend was maintained at 4.2p. Underlying earnings jumped from 0.7p to 7.3p.