Mersey lifts profits despite high costs

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The Independent Online

Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, the ports operator, has weathered supply problems and high fuel costs to announce a 6 per cent rise in first-half pre-tax profits to a record £27.2m.

Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, the ports operator, has weathered supply problems and high fuel costs to announce a 6 per cent rise in first-half pre-tax profits to a record £27.2m.

Port operations brought in the largest chunk of profits at £26.2m, up from last year's £24.5m. Mersey Docks' finance director, Alastair Findlay, said: "It's a good solid set of figures, much in line with market expectations."

The market welcomed the news, with the shares rising 1.5p to 514p. Overall, turnover for the six months to 30 June rose by 9 per cent to £101.1m. Within port operations, there was growth in container, grain and ferry services, but a "slight hiccup" in the volume of fresh produce imports handled byoperations at Sheerness.

New container services at the company's ports are expected to accelerate profits in the second half of the year. Grain services continue to recover. The roll-on roll-off ferry business saw growth of 21 per cent. Mersey said profits in shipping were reduced because of competition, losses on its new UK east coast service, and rising fuel and haulage costs.

Mr Findlay said: "With the high fuel costs, there is little we can do except to seek to claw that back from customers as contracts come up for renewal."

The company says it is ready to make further acquisitions, possibly in Europe. "The emergence of private equity and venture-capital money may push up price expectations in the UK, so an acquisition... could come from Europe or elsewhere," said Tony Shephard, an analyst at Charles Stanley.

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