Courtaulds dip into red prompts job fears amid radical shake-up

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The Independent Online
Courtaulds Textiles yesterday announced a radical restructuring plan to arrest the decline in the Gossard bras to bed linen group which saw it sink into the red in the first six months of the year.

Colin Dyer, who took over as chief executive after the ousting of Noel Jervis in June, said the group would take a charge of pounds 30m-pounds 35m over the next couple of years as it exited from about a dozen businesses that were underperforming or did not have the scope to become leading players in international markets.

The programme would be self-financing and deliver savings of between pounds 10m and pounds 13m by 1998, he said.

The group also renewed its warning that jobs would be lost as it stepped up plans to move more of the group's clothing manufacturing operations overseas. It refused to specify how many of the 14,000 employees in the UK would be affected.

Although profits of pounds 6.4m turned into a loss of pounds 8.5m in the six months to June, news of the shake-up was generally well received yesterday and the shares gained 5.5p to 310.5p. The market was braced for poor figures after two profits warnings since the turn of the year and yesterday's plans appeared to build on the rationalisation begun by Mr Jervis.

Pippa Wicks, finance director, said the group was "acting a lot more decisively and a lot more speedily" than before.

The core businesses are to be grouped around four divisions where the group has strong positions, covering lace and stretch fabric, lingerie and hosiery, casual wear and underwear and furnishings.

The 12 businesses to go, earmarked a year ago, represent pounds 160m of sales and no profits with some of them not being profitable for several years. Cabinet towels, curtains and the manufacture of Arab head shawls have all gone, with the spinning business on the blocks for disposal.

Meanwhile, "a number of factories" in Britain, the United States and on the Continent would have to close in the clothing business as more manufacturing is shifted to Third World countries.

Ms Wicks refused to be drawn on the impact on the group's 23,000 employees world-wide. She denied that the plans had any connection with Labour proposals to introduce a minimum wage, although she noted that "certainly, depending on where it comes in at, it will make manufacturing textiles in this country more difficult".

Half-year profits were hit by a pounds 9.1m exceptional charge, including a pounds 6.5m net loss on disposals. Further redundancy and rationalisation charges in the second half would take the full-year charge to about pounds 20m, Ms Wicks said.

Operating profits sank from pounds 15.5m to pounds 5.4m in the opening six months, with most of the pain being felt in the old fabrics division where profits sank from pounds 11.1m to pounds 4.8m, before a pounds 1.9m restructuring charge. The destocking affecting the US lace business after retailers over-estimated demand over Christmas continued, but with order books full, there are signs the stretch fabric side is picking up. However, Ms Wicks warned the move by women away from lacy underwear was continuing to affect traditional lace sales.

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