City File: Housing land could hold back P&O

SHARES in the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company climbed 31p to 351p last week as the City decided that fears of a dividend cut and poor interim profits were misplaced. The results will be announced on Wednesday.

However, optimists should beware of the potential for shocks in Bovis, its construction business. The biggest worry is the value of its housing land, much of it bought when prices were up to three times as high as now. At the beginning of the year, Bovis had 7,900 plots valued at pounds 260m. That works out at almost pounds 33,000 a plot, or about 30 per cent of the pounds 109,000 average selling price, well above the industry average of 20 per cent. To get down to that level, P&O could have to write off as much as pounds 80m, making a dent in forecasts of pre-tax profits of about pounds 260m, up from pounds 217.4m, for the full year.

P&O traditionally revalues its land and property at the full year, so analysts are not expecting write-downs on Wednesday, when pre-tax profits are expected to be about pounds 70m, down from pounds 73.1m last time.

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