AB Ports to sell its US aviation business

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The Independent Online

Associated British Ports yesterday said it would resist calls to pull out of its disastrous US investments altogether as it announced plans to sell its American aviation business.

Bo Lerenius, the chief executive, said most of the US Amports business, which AB Ports bought for £120m in 1999, would remain. He said the US aviation arm was being sold because it did not fit with the rest of the group, which runs ports.

"[US] sea ports is a core business. We will grow it. It's quite natural for us to keep the sea ports," he said.

Some analysts blamed the fall in the share price of AB Ports yesterday, which closed 12.75p lower at 417p, on the company's continued involvement in the US. In February this year, AB Ports was forced to write down the Amports acquisition by £80m. Mr Lerenius said he had already received interest in the Amports aviation business, which provides services to American regional airports. He hoped it would fetch at least its book value of £22m.

Operating profit at Amports, for the six months to 30 June, was flat at £2.8m, reflecting reduced work at the ports due to the US economic slowdown.

Group results at AB Ports showed underlying pre-tax profit up 8 per cent to £66.5m in the first half. That result came despite reduced iron-ore shipments passing through its ports, wiping £1m from operating profit, because of restructuring at Corus, the steel manufacturer.

Mr Lerenius said that AB Ports's growth this year would beat 2000, as more than half its work was already guaranteed under contract.