Dealership pushes Cowie earnings to record pounds 38m: Keep Trust purchase boosts turnover at motor retailer by 33%

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PROFITS at T Cowie, the car sales and leasing group, reached a record pounds 38m before tax in the year to December, up from pounds 24.3m. The May acquisition of the Keep Trust car dealership helped to boost turnover by a third to pounds 800m.

Cowie, which is now the UK's fourth-biggest motor retailer, reported 'considerable progress' in assimilating the new dealership. Profits per outlet have increased since the takeover. Results at the group's motor division offered more evidence of the revival of the UK car market, with pre-tax profits of pounds 8.5m on turnover of pounds 518m.

The company's second-biggest business, its finance division, includes the country's market leader in car leasing. Turnover fell slightly, to pounds 230m, as lower interest rates led to reduced income. Margins were sustained, however, and the division's profits rose from pounds 16.6m to pounds 23.7m.

Firmer prices for its used contract hire vehicles contributed to this, as did the pace of vehicle fleet renewals. Neil Pykett, managing director of Cowie Financial Holdings, said: 'During the latter half of 1993 demand for new fleet vehicles increased, particularly in our major customer accounts.'

The group's bus and coach distribution arm also increased turnover and profits, but its Grey-Green bus and coach operation in London reported a fall in profits. Gordon Hodgson, group chief executive, said: 'There are new opportunities to expand Grey-Green, including those offered through the privatisation of London buses.'

Gearing fell to 212 per cent, down from 306 per cent. Cowie said this was satisfactory given its financing operations, and pounds 437m of known future income put borrowings of pounds 288m into perspective.

Harry Philips, an analyst at Panmure Gordon, said that the benefits of cost reductions had started to show in 1993 and that the results were encouraging.

The dividend for the year rose 26 per cent to 7.85p. Cowie's shares closed 7p higher at 331p.

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