National Express ahead of forecast: Group discussing two acquisitions

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NATIONAL EXPRESS, Britain's dominant coach travel company, produced profits slightly ahead of its forecast at flotation in December, despite an 11 per cent drop in passenger journeys.

The group - which was bought out by management from the state-run National Bus Company in 1988 - reported pre-tax profits of pounds 6.8m in 1992, against a pro-forma loss of pounds 1.2m the previous year. But the 1991 loss included pounds 5.5m of exceptional costs.

National Express forecast profits of pounds 6.5m before the flotation, which raised pounds 15m net for the group.

Ray McEnhill, chief executive, said that the proceeds remaining from the flotation would be used to make acquisitions. He said that National Express was in talks about two potential acquisitions - one big, one small.

He blamed the drop in passenger journeys on the recession, the cutting of unprofitable routes, and competition from British Rail.

'The vast majority of our customers are discretionary spenders, and travel is the sort of spending that goes first in a recession.'

He said that the company tended to reflect well the economic performance of the country, but he had no evidence that the recession was ending.

But he was confident that National Express would continue to produce profits growth from a combination of cost-cutting and more sophisticated operating systems.

Eurolines, the group's pan-European coach travel company, increased operating profits by 12 per cent to pounds 1.1m. Airport Coach Services' profits were static at pounds 740,000.

Group earnings per share were 16.8p, against the 16.1p forecast in the prospectus, and Mr McEnhill said the company expected to pay an interim dividend in September.

The shares firmed a penny to 192p. The offer price at flotation was 165p.

(Photograph omitted)