Undertaker's profits soar despite fall in death rate

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The Independent Online

Dignity, the recently listed funeral director, yesterday posted a 31 per cent rise in half-year underlying profits, despite a fall in the number of deaths over the period.

The UK's largest chain of funeral and cremation services said recorded deaths fell 3.6 per cent in the six months to the end of June. Peter Hindley, the chief executive, said this was a significant drop. "It is a huge swing. But we suspect by the end of the year it won't be that high," he said.

Statistics from the Government project a small decline in deaths over the next 10 years, but Mr Hindley said this was set to increase again as lifestyles become less healthy.

Dignity performed 35,100 funerals from its 511 UK branches in the first six months of the year, down from 36,300 in the same period of 2003. Its 21 crematoriums carried out 19,800, down from 20,600.

One of the key reasons for Dignity's float, in April this year, was to raise funds to pay off debt that had become too expensive for the company to service. The £123m raised from the float eliminated the debt, but Dignity had to take an exceptional write-down of £16m. This widened Dignity's pre-tax losses to £3.9m. But excluding this, underlying pre-tax profits for the six months were up 31 per cent to £12.3m. Its shares rose 3.5p to 278.5p.

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