Looker advances to pounds 5m pre-tax: Motor companies move into higher gear as rising sales make it easier to expand

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SHARES in Looker, the North-west motor dealer, jumped 31p to 229p yesterday after it reported a 20 per cent rise in new car sales in the year to 30 September 1993. This compares with a national average of 12 per cent.

Pre-tax profits rose from pounds 1.63m in 1992 to pounds 5.01m. Earnings per share rose from 0.1p to 12.3p, but the final dividend was increased only from 4.2p to 4.5p. This makes a total for the year of 6.5p compared with 6.2p.

Turnover rose from pounds 333m to pounds 363m.

Ken Martindale, chairman, said: 'Operating margins are up slightly and we have managed to contain costs, so the increases in volumes have come straight through to the bottom line.'

In addition to buoyant new car sales, there was a significant increase in used car sales.

'The figures were much better than I had expected, given the lacklustre first half that the business had had,' Peter Caldwell, an analyst at BZW, said.

The balance sheet was strengthened by the sale of 51 per cent of Lookers Planned Motoring, and gearing at the year end was 53 per cent against 98 per cent last year.

In Platts Harris, one of the UK's largest combine harvester dealerships, the recovery continued and operating profits climbed to pounds 350,000 from pounds 60,000.

The caravan-retailing operation at Darlington was burnt to the ground at the end of June 1993 but only small trading losses have been made. It is being rebuilt.

The caravan and leisure parks continue to trade profitably, as does the car delivery business. But a small loss was made at the van-building business, which has since returned to profitability.

Commenting on the current year, Mr Martindale said: 'It is reasonably well up. We are again managing to control overheads. Sales are moving up slowly but steadily and that is helping us to do better.'