AFTER ITS profits warning in 1995 Hodder Headline, the book publisher, has been recovering steadily. Its shares have risen by a third in the past year, outperforming the market by 28 per cent. The collapse of the Net Book Agreement is helping sales of mass market titles where Hodder is strong with authors such as Stephen King and Tom Clancy. And the dash to open book superstores by retailers such as Waterstone's and Borders, the US group, is stimulating bookbuying.
Tim Hely Hutchinson, Hodder's chief executive, reckons the UK book market will grow by 5 to 6 per cent this year, a healthy trend in a mature market. Sales in July and August were "reasonably firm", he says, contradicting reports of a slowdown.
Hodder's half-year figures underlined the progress: pre-tax profits shot up by 70 per cent to pounds 2.2m. The rise was fuelled by a strong first half set of new titles, which included hardbacks from TV chef Sophie Grigson and paperbacks such as Josephine Cox's Miss You Forever.
Asia will probably only account for 3 per cent of Hodder's sales this year compared to the usual 6 per cent. The financial turmoil in the region has hit demand in Australia and New Zealand. Hodder is establishing a joint venture there to reduce costs, but the dent to profits could keep second-half figures at the same level as last year.
On full-year profit forecasts of pounds 9m, the shares - up 10p to