Courts soars on 53% rise: Overseas operations boost furniture stores growth

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The Independent Online
SHARES in Courts Furnishings rocketed ahead 91p to 622p after the company reported a 53 per cent rise in profits. The company made pounds 12.4m before tax in the year to 31 March.

Courts' share price has almost doubled since the beginning of the year.

Bruce Cohen, chief executive, said signs of recovery in the UK in the first half had hardened in the second. The housing market started to move ahead in the South of England, where Courts' shops are concentrated.

Turnover in the UK rose 4.3 per cent to pounds 107m for the year as a whole, after being behind 3.1 per cent at the interim stage. UK operating profits excluding central overhead costs were 25 per cent ahead at pounds 4.4m.

But it was Courts' overseas operations that were the engine for growth in the second half. For the first time they outstripped the UK, accounting for 52 per cent of sales.

Mr Cohen said that Courts' overseas markets traditionally performed better in the second half. The group is strong in the Far East, the Caribbean and the Pacific/Indian Ocean.

Turnover from overseas subsidiaries rose 43.8 per cent to pounds 117m. Foreign currency translation after devaluation accounted for pounds 15.4m of the pounds 35.6m rise in sales.

Mr Cohen said he expected continued growth overseas but he believed the company had great potential in the UK.

'Our strategy is to move more into out-of-town superstores, which have higher sales per square foot and lower costs, and away from less profitable high street sites.' Courts has 29 superstores and 65 high street shops. Average superstore sales per square foot rose pounds 5 to pounds 115, while the high street stores lagged behind with a pounds 2 rise to pounds 70.

'It's still slow growth out of recession in the UK, but the signs of recovery are there and we believe we have a lot of room to expand,' Mr Cohen said.

'Current trading is ahead of last year both at home and abroad.'

Earnings per share jumped from 19.7p to 31.6p and the dividend rises to 5.5p (5p).

The company made an extraordinary gain of pounds 2.97m from the flotation of a 25 per cent stake in its Singaporean subsidiary on the local stock exchange.

Mr Cohen said that further flotations of overseas subsidiaries were on the cards.

Net assets rose from pounds 98m to pounds 126m, despite the effects of a lower valuation of the group's properties. The portfolio's nominal value fell pounds 5.2m to pounds 35.4m. The ratio of debt to shareholders' funds fell from 47 per cent to 40 per cent.