Wolseley minds the gap as US supports ailing Euro showing

The heating and plumbing giant Wolseley underlined the widening divide between a United States operation buoyed by a steadily improving economy and its struggling businesses in Europe.

The chief executive,Ian Meakins, warned its business on the Continent, where Wolseley has cut nearly 1,000 jobs since last July, faced "hard graft".

He also unveiled advanced talks over the sale of a chunk of the FTSE 100 company's French building materials arm, with 88 branches to be sold in the South and 24 closed with the loss of another 400 jobs.

The US was almost entirely behind Wolseley's 8 per cent rise in trading profits to £324m for the six months to 31 January, contributing an extra £50m as most other regions saw earnings decline or slip into the red.

In the UK, Wolseley has held its own in a shrinking market over the past six months, better than tumbling sales across the eurozone and Nordic regions, but well behind the 8 per cent jump in sales in the US, which now accounts for 51 per cent of overall group revenues.

Mr Meakins said: "What we are clearly seeing is a separation, where the European businesses continue to move in pretty troubled markets whereas the US is coming back a bit...It is consumer confidence we need to come back. It is hard graft at the moment."