J Laing back in black as write-downs fall

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The Independent Online
A SHARP drop in exceptional write-downs coupled with a strong performance from contracting helped John Laing, the building group, return to the black in 1992.

The group made pounds 11.6m pre-tax profits compared with a pounds 65.3m loss in 1991 as property and housing write-downs and reorganisation costs fell from pounds 87.8m to pounds 21.4m. The largest charge was a pounds 9.2m reduction in the value of its housing land - down from pounds 51.7m last time.

Profits from construction rose 15 per cent to pounds 25.1m, but Martin Laing, chairman, warned that the current year would be tough. The forward order book had fallen by a third to pounds 1bn, partly because of 'a deliberate policy of not picking up work which will give us problems in the future'. Margins are likely to fall to about 1 per cent from the 2.5 per cent achieved in 1992. Some analysts expect contracting profits to halve this year. In housing, however, the year had begun well with reservations 35 per cent ahead, although Mr Laing said recovery remained tentative. The group aims to raise sales in 1993 from 2,674 to 2,950, mainly by increasing business with housing associations.

An increase in housing association work last year helped the division turn a pounds 2.8m loss in 1991 to a pounds 4.8m profit, despite a pounds 6,000 fall in average selling prices to pounds 56,100.

Net cash fell from pounds 29.7m to pounds 7.2m as the group took pounds 40m of borrowings on its Castlecourt retail development on to its balance sheet.

Earnings per share were 9.44p compared with a 57.4p loss. The dividend was maintained at 9p after a 6p final.