The decline stemmed from a pounds 14m exceptional cost relating to reorganisation of its North American operations, the closure of a non-woven business and a loss on disposal of non-core African interests.
Although operating profits edged ahead by about pounds 1m to pounds 27.1m, in the US the company slipped from a pounds 372,000 profit in 1991 to a pounds 155,000 loss. Together with difficult trading conditions in Canada, profits from Low's North American operations dropped by about a third to pounds 4.6m.
However, there was a strong performance in Europe, where trading profits improved from pounds 19.4m to pounds 22.6m, reflecting better margins at the packaging businesses and strong demand for speciality materials.
Net borrowing amounted to pounds 37m at the year-end, equivalent to 30 per cent of net assets.
Despite a fall in earnings per share from 18.8p to 17.4p the total dividend is held at 9.1p.
The market is looking for taxable profits of pounds 31m for this year.
The shares rose 5p to close at 303p yesterday.