John Laing gloom counters increase

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The Independent Online
SHARES in John Laing fell 15p to 350p yesterday, despite a 58 per cent rise in pre-tax profits, as the construction and housebuilding group warned on prospects for the UK contracting industry.

Martin Laing, the chairman, said: 'The beginnings of an improvement in late 1993 were modest, and unsatisfactory profit margins will adversely impact on the construction division into the foreseeable future.'

His gloomy assessment of the construction market was tempered by a swing from loss into profit from housebuilding, where completions rose from 2,175 to 2,430. This year a similar number is expected, despite a sharp fall in the number of sales to housing associations.

Housing sales in the US rose from 499 to 545 thanks to a buoyant Washington market. In California, the economy continues to suffer and there was a pounds 2.7m land write- down, but Laing has started buying land in anticipation of an upturn.

A jump in pre-tax profits from pounds 11.6m to pounds 18.3m disguised a fall in construction profits from pounds 15.4m to pounds 9.9m.

The contracting decline was more than offset by the reversal of a pounds 4.4m housing loss into a pounds 2.6m profit and a pounds 4.8m contribution from property and other investments compared with a pounds 4m loss.

The profits were struck from unchanged turnover of pounds 1.26bn. Earnings per share were 15p and a final dividend of 6p made an unchanged total for the year of 9p. Laing ended the year with net cash of pounds 46m.

Despite the recent clampdown by the Malaysian government on British involvement in public sector projects, Laing secured a contract there for the management of a power station project. It is also investing in Vietnam.