Helical Bar prepares to make another change of direction

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SLADE, managing director of Helical Bar, the property company that had one of the best performing shares during the 1980s, is aiming to repeat the feat by reducing exposure to industrial property.

Mr Slade was one of the first to spot the impending slump in the property market, and the group reduced its exposure to London offices in favour of industrial sheds. This year Mr Slade expects retail and residential property to take over as the best performers. He is already considering retail acquisitions and aims to make it about 40 per cent of assets.

Despite the switch, Helical was not immune to the property slump. But results for the year to January show that it has recovered from a loss of pounds 7.6m to a pounds 5.9m profit before tax. About pounds 3.9m of that was because of conservative provisioning in previous years, which has now been written back.

Debt at the year-end was pounds 63m, down from more than pounds 100m the previous year, or more than 1.4 times net assets. Since then property sales have brought in pounds 11m and a further pounds 14m worth are close to completion. Mr Slade said the company's acquisition plans meant debt would rise to about 1.5 times net assets by the end of this year.

The value of the property portfolio fell by 3.6 per cent, but net assets increased by 4p to 224p because of the profits retained in the business.

Rental income was pounds 13.8m, almost covering the pounds 11.4m of interest costs and pounds 2.6m administrative expenses. Although the group has been disposing of properties - which produced pounds 3m profit - Mr Slade said the impact on rents would be limited by rent increases and letting empty space.

Earnings per share were 29p, compared with a 43.2p loss last time. Helical has already paid a second interim dividend of 2.4p for a 4.8p total. The results were well received in the City and the shares gained 16p to 186p.