Express newspapers lift United results: Pre-tax profits grow by 125 per cent

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A SURGE in profits from its national titles, the Daily Express and the relaunched Sunday Express, helped United Newspapers to lift annual earnings last year.

United shares were marked 17p higher to 588p as it announced a 14 per cent increase in operating profits to pounds 118.9m. Pre-tax profits grew 125 per cent to pounds 109.9m, boosted by a pounds 39m swing in exceptional items.

The national newspapers arm, which also includes the Daily Star, lifted its profits 36 per cent to pounds 33m. The Sunday Express, which was relaunched as a tabloid last July, added 110,000 copies to 1.76 million in the second half of 1992.

While advertising volumes in regional newspapers were depressed, they grew by 7 per cent at the Express titles and have continued to grow in the new financial year.

Elsewhere in the group, regional newspapers and the magazines and exhibitions division recorded modest profit increases. Advertising periodicals and information services registered small falls. Software bugs and other start-up problems delayed the introduction of Extel's new accounting service for fund managers.

Graham Wilson, managing director of United, said the company was interested in the provincial newspapers of Argus Press, which are for sale.

Although the interest bill fell 21 per cent to pounds 21.9m, net debt grew by pounds 31m to pounds 309m, mostly because of the fall in sterling, which increased the value of dollar-denominated debt.

The final dividend was lifted 1/2 p to 14p, making a total of 21.5p.

An exceptional profit of pounds 10.4m, compared with a pounds 27.7m loss last time, comprised a pounds 22.7m gain on the sale of Reuters shares offset by a pounds 12m provision against the costs of terminating an uneconomic magazine distribution contract with Northern & Shell.