Harrisons cautious on acquisitions

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The Independent Online
HARRISONS & Crosfield is in no hurry to spend an estimated pounds 200m warchest, according to its new chief executive, Bill Turcan.

He said yesterday the plantations-to-timber group planned to focus on building materials and chemicals, having sold its Indonesian palm oil operations last week.

The disposal reduced gearing from 48 to 14 per cent, and Mr Turcan said Harrisons would be prepared to borrow up to half its shareholders' funds of pounds 654m if the right opportunity came along.

He said he was mindful of the company's poor acquisition record and stressed the importance of making a good purchase this time.

His comments accompanied a 24 per cent increase in pre-tax profits from pounds 48.4m to pounds 59.9m. Earnings per share rose 12 per cent to 4.6p and the interim dividend was maintained at 3.6p.

Good performances from UK building materials and chemicals were offset by problems in the US and at the company's small pig-rearing operation.

Fastest growth came from Harcros, the timber merchant, where an 8 per cent increase in sales resulted in a 47 per cent jump in profits. The trend of falling margins was reversed.

In the US, Moore's was hit by bad weather and volatile timber prices and profits were almost halved at dollars 726,000.

Profits from chemicals were 10 per cent higher. British Chrome benefited from higher sales which offset lower margins, especially in the Far East.