ERM exit builds Bryant's hopes

BRITAIN'S exit from the exchange rate mechanism 'must be in the best interests' of the housing market, according to Chris Bryant, chairman of Bryant Group. But he added: 'with the economy in the doldrums, the outlook is bleak'.'

Mr Bryant, who stands down as chairman at the group's annual meeting next month, said a cut in interest rates would be good for the housing market. He added that, although sales in the past three months had been on target, September had been depressed. His comments came as the group revealed that pre-tax profits in the year to May had risen from pounds 10.3m to pounds 20.3m. The increase was largely due to a reduction in provisions against housing and commercial property, down from pounds 12m to pounds 5m, and a drop in the interest bill from pounds 3.9m to pounds 1.5m.

Bryant has expanded its housing side and unit sales rose 25 per cent to 2,330, partly because of expansion into the North, although average prices fell from pounds 90,000 to pounds 86,000. The division's operating profits rose from pounds 9m to pounds 15.6m, and it also benefited from a fall in provisions from pounds 8m to pounds 2m.

Andrew McKenzie, managing director, said volumes were expected to rise 10 per cent in the current year, although prices could fall further to pounds 83,000.

In construction, profits rose from pounds 2.6m to pounds 4.6m on turnover up only marginally to pounds 100.5m. But the group warned that turnover was likely to fall to about pounds 60m this year and margins would also be lower.

Borrowings at the year-end stood at pounds 15.6m, 8 per cent of shareholders' funds, although there is a further pounds 21.7m of off- balance sheet debt.

Earnings per share rose from 3.4p to 5.5p and the final dividend is maintained at 3.4p for an unchanged total of 4.8p. The shares closed 8p higher at 89p.

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