Tomkins feels pressure of US slowdown and weak dollar

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The Independent Online

Tomkins, the car components to building products group, warned yesterday that the slowdown in the US housing and automotive markets coupled with the weakness of the dollar would hit profits for the first half of this year.

The warning came as the group announced a 7 per cent fall in pre-tax profits last year to £245m and said it planned to sell off three American businesses with combined sales of £500m. Tomkins also said it would cut capital expenditure and transfer more production to low labour cost countries such as Mexico, China and the Czech Republic.

Tomkins shares fell by almost 3 per cent as analysts cut their earnings forecasts. David Newlands, the Tomkins chairman, said: "The overall outlook for our markets in 2007 is difficult particularly when compared to the first half of 2006. This, together with the weaker US dollar, is expected to impact the comparison with the prior year."

The US accounts for more than 70 per cent of Tomkins' sales and profits. The company's automotive division is disproportionately dependent on Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - all of which have fared worse than their Japanese rivals in the US market.

A sudden downturn in the US automotive and housing markets last summer caused Tom-kins to warn on 2006 profits and shed 3,000 jobs. Jim Nicol, chief executive, said he expected demand from the group's biggest automotive customers to remain weak this year while the housing market was still "bleeding". These two factors would make trading conditions "challenging".

However, he said prospects were far better in the group's Asian and east European markets and added that it was taking workers on in Northern Ireland where Tomkins makes remote tyre pressure monitoring systems, which become mandatory on US cars later this year.

Tomkins said it expected capital expenditure this year to be a little lower than the £125m it spent last year. It expects to incur £10m in restructuring costs this but Mr Nicol indicated that job losses would be in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

The three businesses being sold off are Lasco Fittings, a supplier of industrial and building equipment, Trico, the windscreen wiper company, and Dearborn Midwest, which makes heavy conveyor systems for car plants.

As a sign of its continued confidence, the company announced a 5 per cent increase in the final dividend. Morgan Stanley cut its earnings forecast for this year by 17 per cent but said specula-tion about a break-up of the business or buyout interest would help to support the share price.