Cut in timber losses helps Wickes to build up pounds 17.8m: Profits rise fivefold as opening of 16 new stores boosts sales

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A REDUCTION in losses at Hunter Timber coupled with increased sales at its do-it-yourself chain helped Wickes to a fivefold rise in profits in 1993.

The group made a pounds 17.8m profit before tax, up from pounds 3.5m the previous year, on sales 11 per cent ahead at pounds 608.5m. But the improvement had been discounted by the City and the shares held at 121p.

The core Wickes chain increased its contribution to operating profits from pounds 22m to about pounds 27m. In the UK, sales rose by 13 per cent, while the Continental stores managed 4 per cent growth. But the rises were largely due to the opening of 16 new stores, and like-for-like sales were just 0.5 per cent ahead.

Henry Sweetbaum, chairman, said like-for-like growth in the past eight weeks had 'risen to better than double digit' percentage increases. That was due to bulk buying, which allowed the company to pass lower prices on to customers.

'We have been testing the market in different areas to see where we can get the volume to compensate for the cost decreases,' said Mr Sweetbaum.

The group plans to open a further 25 Wickes stores this year, 19 in Britain and the rest on the Continent. The pounds 25m cost of the expansion programme will be funded from the pounds 58m rights issue launched last September.

That cut the group's debt from pounds 73.2m to pounds 10.1m, or 7 per cent of net assets. Interest charges also dropped from pounds 13.7m to pounds 7.6m.

Hunter and Malden Timber halved their losses to about pounds 6m, although that was largely due to Hunter, where losses were virtually eliminated. The group has decided to combine the two divisions under Arkadi Bykhovsky, recruited from a Canadian timber group. That will involve some redundancies at Malden's head office.

'The Malden business is profitable at the branch level but is making losses in total because the administration and overhead structure was created for a business with 140 branches, and it only has 85 now,' said Mr Sweetbaum. Mr Bykhovsky is conducting a strategic review of the business.

Earnings per share were 4.2p, up from 0.8p, and the final dividend is 0.8p, making 1p (nil) for the year.