German cuts add to pain at Pilks

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The Independent Online
Pilkington, the St Helens-based glassmaker, yesterday dealt shareholders a fresh blow by warning that profits would be pounds 55m lower this year because of the need for further redundancies and asset write-downs in Germany.

The warning sent Pilkington shares down a further 6 per cent to 121p compared with the 155p investors paid 18 months ago in a pounds 303m rights issue.

Pilkington said that a collapse in flat glass prices since the start of the year and a slowdown in the German construction market meant that it would have to take the axe to its continental operations again for the second time in two years.

About 1,000 jobs are likely to be slashed in Germany as Pilkington cuts its processed glass capacity by 20 per cent. The cutbacks come on top of 1,900 job losses announced last year at a cost of pounds 155m.

The fresh cutbacks means the group will incur restructuring costs approaching pounds 20m in each of the next two years. It is also taking a further pounds 40m charge to cover asset write-downs in the year just ending.

Pilkington said that as a result profits would be not less than pounds 130m in the year to 31 March. That compares with forecasts of pounds 250m last June and pounds 190m as recently as last November.

Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman, said these results represented a "setback" but the company's underlying strategy of cutting costs and rebuilding the business remained sound.

Finance director Andrew Robb said most of the damage had been done by the sharp fall in glass prices since the end of 1996. This had been exacerbated by the strength of the pound against the mark, the building of new capacity in eastern Germany and weak German construction markets.

Float glass prices have slumped from DM6.30 a square metre in 1995 to DM4.50 and Pilkington is not budgeting on them rising above DM5 for the rest of this year. Mr Robb said the exchange rate impact would be pounds 10m- pounds 20m this year if the pound stayed at current levels.

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