Bullish Benchmark to pay 60p special dividend

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Benchmark, the property group that specialises in central London, yesterday cemented its bullish outlook by announcing a special dividend of 60p per share.

The company, which focuses on the West End, said the appetite for property in the capital had "long-term strength and resilience". Nigel Kempner, the chief executive, said the market had never been in better shape to deal with any possible fall-out from this month's terrorist attacks in the US.

The company said that the supply of new space in central London was restricted, which helped to make the market "relatively stable". The amount of office space in the West End due to come on the market is expected to meet only half of present demand, according to Mr Kempner.

Benchmark yesterday reported a 39 per cent leap in full-year profit before tax to £21.5m. Its net asset value per share, an important measure of performance for property stocks, rose 10.5 per cent to 373.9p. The special dividend was in addition to a 9.6 per cent rise in the regular full-year dividend to 4.55p.

The company is setting up a property unit trust, WELPUT, with Schroder to buy larger West End lots than Benchmark would normally consider. Its shares gained 4.5p to 231p.