Manweb interim payout up after 48% advance to pounds 55m: Cost control and increase in sales boost half-year figures

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MANWEB rounded off the electricity results season with a 14.8 per cent increase in the interim dividend to 7p. The increase is at the lower end of the range of increases announced by the regional supply companies. However, Manweb said that it was consistent with a policy of steady dividend growth.

The company bucked the trend towards job-cutting in the sector by recruiting 90 new employees in the first half of the year.

The extra staff are needed to improve quality of service and to read meters, making estimated readings a thing of the past.

Manweb's pre-tax profits jumped by 48 per cent to pounds 54.9m in the six months to 30 September but the figures mask an underlying growth of 25 per cent. The increase is distorted by changes in the timings of payments by Manweb to the generators for power supplies.

John Roberts, the company's chief executive, said that the growth in profit was due to tight cost control and to increased sales of electricity to both domestic and industrial customers. He said the local economy - Manweb operates in Merseyside, North Wales and Cheshire - appears to be recovering slowly across all sectors.

Manweb's sales to large industrial customers using more than one megawatt grew particularly strongly. Only these very large customers have the freedom to choose their electricity supplier at present. However, the threshold will be reduced next April, allowing 50,000 customers to shop around for supplies.

In spite of the apparent upturn in the region, Manweb's retail business continued to suffer from low consumer spending. After a one-off cost for refurbishment, retail made a loss of pounds 500,000 in the first half compared with small profit in the same period last year. The contracting arm reduced its loss to pounds 200,000 from pounds 600,000 a year ago.

Manweb's gas supply business and the electricity generation operation both made small interim profits. However, Manweb's forays outside its core electricity distribution and supply business remain modest compared with some companies.

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