The publishing group, which owns both the Daily and Sunday Express as well as the Daily Star and a stable of other newspapers and magazines, said the relaunch had added over 200,000 copies to the ailing title's circulation in its first month, and the year-on-year figures to August showed a gain of 6 per cent in a market where sales fell 2 per cent.
Graham Wilson, United's managing director, said it was not clear whether the sales had come from the Sunday Express' main rival, the Mail on Sunday, or from more downmarket papers like the Sunday People. He said increased sales helped the perception of the title in the eyes of advertisers.
Strong advertising sales across all the national titles helped United to produce better half- year figures than expected. Pre- tax profits rose 20 per cent to pounds 46.5m, helped by a 56 per cent rise in national newspaper profits to pounds 14m. Earnings per share rose similarly to 14.2p but the dividend, which was held in more difficult times, was unchanged at 7.5p.
United shares rose 16p to 425p on the figures.
Mr Wilson said that advertising sales in the national papers had grown. However, in regional papers the story was not so good. United said that revenue had stopped falling but there was no sign of any upturn. 'The only thing you can say about the trend is there is none,' he said.
Exchange & Mart, the group's all-advertising periodical, has been a victim of the recession. It saw a fall in profits due to falling advertising volumes and the costs of an advertising campaign to increase awareness of the title.
The group's business titles and exhibitions continue to have a hard time, although the latter were not as bad as feared. The information services side saw profits fall as potential buyers put off purchasing decisions.
Mr Wilson also put paid to speculation that Lord Stevens, who stood down from Invesco MIM earlier this summer, would also leave United. In response to the suggestion that Lord Stevens would retire, Mr Wilson said: 'No, sir.'