Leopold Joseph lifts profits and payout

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LEOPOLD JOSEPH, the small London merchant bank that caters for the rich, boosted annual profits by 43 per cent last year.

Leopold increased profits after tax and a transfer from inner reserves to pounds 1.6m in the year to 31 March, up from pounds 1.1m in the previous year. The second-half dividend was raised by 6 per cent to 13.5p, bringing the dividend for the year to 16.6p against 15.85p in 1992.

Robin Herbert, chairman, said the result reflected a strong performance in core activities - banking, treasury, investment, corporate finance and an offshore Guernsey banking subsidiary - and the outlook was excellent.

'Banking led very strongly. It was a combination of wide margins and the competition being weaker,' Mr Herbert said. 'Big banks have been very cautious in lending and there's a lot of banking business around now, both in money transmission and in lending.'

Leopold's account holders are high-net-worth individuals with an international profile and include Lloyd's names. But Mr Herbert said the bank had a low-risk role in Lloyd's, profitably transmitting money in and out of the insurance market.

The bank's turnover was higher in banking, where deposit-taking and lending both increased, and in treasury operations, which benefited from greater currency volatility after the Government's decision to leave the European exchange rate mechanism in September.

The bank did not reveal its bad debt provisions but the chairman said the lending book had performed extremely well. 'Provisions have been very modest.' The loan portfolio grew as a result of attractive opportunities, and trade finance business is also expanding.

The balance sheet total was little changed from the previous year at pounds 261m. The shares closed unchanged at 358p.