The trading statement was in sharp contrast to its comments last September, when it said the outlook was doubtful. Yesterday, Alan Jackson, chief executive, said the group had been concerned about Europe and feared that the US recovery was faltering.
'Now, the US is stronger, the Australian economy is definitely quite a bit stronger and the UK is emerging better despite the negative on exports to Europe,' he said.
The group disclosed an 18.9 per cent rise in pre-tax profit to pounds 1.28bn on sales 10.5 per cent ahead at pounds 9.8bn. This was partly due to a pounds 154m profit on disposal of businesses and assets, offset by pounds 22m of goodwill previously written off, and a pounds 98m benefit from exchange differences.
Kathleen O'Donovan, finance director, estimated that pounds 90m of the profits increase was due to increased productivity and efficiency, offset by a pounds 68m drop caused by falling volumes. The rate of decline in volume was now tailing off.
Robert Faircloth, chief operating officer, highlighted the glass and plastic packaging businesses as good performers, together with the automotive businesses in Australia and the US. The rail business has made locomotives for the Channel tunnel and is providing signalling for London Underground.
Earnings per share were 22.4p, up from 19.7p, and the final dividend was increased by 18.6 per cent to 7.3p, giving a total of 12.25p (10.8p).
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