Inchcape set to return pounds 500m to investors

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The Independent Online
INCHCAPE, the former motors, marketing and services group, is set to return around pounds 500m to shareholders following its transformation into a business focusing solely on importing and distributing cars.

Details of the payout will be contained in a circular to be sent to shareholders in the next four to six weeks covering the pounds 457m disposal of the group's South American bottling interests.

As part of its withdrawal from everything apart from the motors business, Inchcape yesterday announced a pounds 404m exceptional write-off, plunging the group into a pounds 298m loss for 1998.

Just under pounds 330m of the charge is related to treatment of goodwill and asset write-downs on acquisitions and disposals.

In the past year Inchcape has disposed of businesses worth pounds 550m. Philip Cushing, the chief executive, said he was confident that the remaining two unwanted businesses - its Middle East marketing interests and office automation - would be disposed of by the end of June. Analysts expect the two businesses to fetch around pounds 100m.

The overhaul of Inchcape will leave it with just a car import and distribution arm handling six main marques - Toyota, Mazda, Jaguar, Peugeot and Subaru - and an Asian motors business based in Hong Kong.

Mr Cushing said that Inchcape expected to unveil new deals with car makers in coming months. It is also considering expanding into other areas such as body repair and used car supermarkets.

Despite the promised payout to shareholders the Inchcape chairman, Lord Marshall, warned that sales were forecast to decline in most of the group's most important markets during this year. The shares fell 8p, or 5 per cent, to close at 139p.

Stripping out the one-off exceptional writedown, pre-tax profits fell by 42 per cent to pounds 108m. The biggest single cause of the decline was the reduction in Inchcape's shareholding in the car distribution business Toyota (GB) from 75 per cent to 49 per cent, which wiped pounds 20m off profits.

But the group was also affected by currency translation, which cost it pounds 10m, and by a deterioration in trading conditions in Asia, South America and Russia.

Operating profits in the motors division fell by 12 per cent to pounds 116m.

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