Bloomsbury sees no end to magic spell

Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books, said yesterday it was confident the diminutive wizard would continue to work his magic on the company's revenues.

The upbeat statement contradicted cynics' view that the magic of JK Rowling's books might be wearing off both on readers and the City, as the company unveiled a 14 per cent rise in first-half profit to £3.56m.

Nigel Newton, chairman of Bloomsbury, said the fifth Harry Potter book, The Order of the Phoenix, launched on 21 June, may have broken a raft of publishing records but its success had been no more and no less than the company had anticipated.

Bloomsbury confirmed Ms Rowling would deliver two more Harry Potter books and that there would be more films to follow the two Hollywood blockbusters already released. The company added that the latest book had helped increase sales of the previous four books in the series.

Mr Newton said: "The level of interest in the series is unprecedented and underlines that it will provide significant revenues for the group for many years to come."

Sales rose 18 per cent in the six months to 30 June, a period which took in only 10 days' sales of the latest Potter phenomenon.

The Order of the Phoenix sold 1.77 million copies on its first day, almost five times as many as the first-day sales of Ms Rowling's fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, released in July 2000, and it has been at the top of the bestsellers' lists since.

"Sales of the books are in line with our expectations. But we have learnt to have high expectations," Mr Newton said.

Analysts said the numbers were at the higher end of expectations, in part due to progress it has made at its German business, Berlin Verlag, which it acquired earlier this year. Malcolm Morgan at Investec raised his forecast for 2004 pre-tax profit by 10 per cent to £15.4m, while leaving his 2003 forecast unchanged at £15.1m.

Bloomsbury's shares have doubled in the past 12 months and increased eightfold over the past five years. Yesterday they closed down 12.5p to 252p.