Associated British Ports poised to put US unit up for sale at £40m

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Associated British Ports, a ports and cargo-handling operator, is considering putting its US division up for sale tomorrow when it publishes the details of a strategic review.

American Port Services, or Amports, which operates US seaports and airports including New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, is expected to be priced at £40m – one third of what ABP paid for it three years ago.

The UK group acknowledged the fall in the US unit's value when it took an £80m exceptional charge last year. ABP executives have said Amports has not performed near expectations. Bo Lerenius, the chief executive of ABP, joined the company less than a year after the Amports acquisition and is thought to be anxious to draw a line under the deal in order to rebuild shareholder value.

Potential buyers of Amports could be attracted by the rebound at the unit, which saw profits rise by 73 per cent to £5.7m in 2000 from £3.3m in 1999. Analysts believe ABP will sell the US unit to concentrate fully on Mr Lerenius' strategy of growing the UK ports business.

ABP reports interim results tomorrow. In late June, ABP said operating profit for the six months to June would rise by 6.5 per cent and that its pre-tax profit would be in line with forecasts. Though the company's stock has held on to a modest rally following that trading statement, the first-half advance will be at a slower rate of growth than the 12 per cent rise in 2000 profits to £92.7m reported in February.