Investment: Mersey Docks thrives on peace

IT'S A SIGN of changing attitudes at Liverpool docks that the 600-strong workforce are among the 70 per cent of employees of Mersey Docks & Harbour Company who are saving to buy shares in their employer.

The company only finally shrugged off the last vestige of industrial militancy earlier this year when it settled a two-year strike with 329 dockers.

But peace has broken out and as a sign of confidence the company is moving ahead with up to pounds 50m worth of capital expenditure to boost future business.

It is spending pounds 10m upgrading its container facilities, plus pounds 30m building two new riverside terminals. Productivity at its key container terminal is now up 40 per cent on from where it was two and a half years ago.

Yesterday the company, which also operates the port of Sheerness in Kent, announced interim pre-tax profits up 7 7 per cent to a record pounds 23.8m. Sales grew by a similar percentage to pounds 87.8m and the dividend was hiked 11 per cent to a new high of 5.0p.

Not everything has been rosy. Volumes actually fell at Liverpool docks due to the temporary closure of a Shell oil terminal and the shutdown of a local power station.

But trade should recover this year even if a wider economic slowdown in the UK could begin to be felt.

The performance of BG Freight Line and Coastal Container Line boosted the company's shipping profits by 26.5 per cent. It is trying to increase its consultancy side and is bidding to operate the port of Maputo in Mozambique.

Shares in the company rose 10p last night to 525p, putting them on a forward multiple of around 14, based on profit forecasts of pounds 47m.

At a slight discount to rival AB Ports, the shares are still worth buying.

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