The group, which is concentrated in the Midlands and South-east, made pounds 11m before tax in 1992, down from pounds 14m the previous year. Earnings per share were also depressed by an increase in the tax charge, falling 29 per cent to 7.7p. That left the dividend, maintained at 8p via a 5.5p final, uncovered for the first time in the group's history.
Operating profits rose 6 per cent to pounds 9.6m, despite a 2 per cent fall in turnover to pounds 303.4m. Tony Travis, chairman, attributed this to cost-cutting - staff numbers were cut by 12.6 per cent to about 3,100, but the output of those remaining rose 11.9 per cent. Bad debts also fell slightly to 1.4 per cent of credit sales, while the number of accounts in the hands of solicitors declined for the first time since the market peaked.
But profits from the sale of surplus sites fell from pounds 5.8m to pounds 1.6m as the depressed market made it harder to dispose of properties. The group still has about 20 sites for sale.
Mr Travis said he was 'not over-excited' about current trading, although he added that the group was enjoying its first quarter of volume increases since 1989. Like-for-like sales in the first three months are up about 2 per cent, although he estimates that March was up about 4.5 per cent on the previous year.
The highest increases are coming from the new building market, which represents about 30 per cent of Travis's business.
Borrowings fell from pounds 7.8m to pounds 1m, compared with pounds 158.1m of shareholders' funds.