No payout this year for Trafalgar investors

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The Independent Online
TRAFALGAR HOUSE is set to cancel its dividend on Friday as it dives up to pounds 200m in the red after massive re-organisation costs and writedowns of problematic construction and engineering contracts.

The conglomerate will reveal the full extent of its troubles barely a week after the death of its co-founder, Lord Matthews, who had built up the group with Sir Nigel Broackes since the 1960s. It will, however, quell speculation on an imminent sale of its Cunard cruise line or house builder, Ideal Homes.

"It has been a terrible trading year. Some people think the losses may be higher," one industry source said, pointing to possible writedowns on Cunard's pounds 372m book value. "They've chosen to bite the bullet on Cunard, though, and make it fly. There's not going to be a sale. Ideal Homes is quite a profitable business and Trafs still needs profits."

Chief executive Nigel Rich warned of substantial losses at the interims in May, following a failed pounds 1.2bn bid for Northern Electric. He has since sent task forces into each of the group's businesses, including Davy and John Brown Engineering, where most of the problems lie.

Last week Trafalgar closed one of Davy's three plants in France, with the loss of more than 150 jobs, on top of 450 last month in the UK.

Trafalgar has been guarded on figures and some analysts have expected pre-tax losses as low as pounds 120m, against profits of pounds 45.6m last year. The picture is further complicated by recent successes in cleaning up the balance sheet. From a record 18p low in October, the shares have recovered strongly to close at 291/2p on Friday, helped by a London property deal that cleared a potential pounds 60m liability.

The group also finally sold its troublesome Emerald Producer oil rig for pounds 21m at the end of October, shortly after the pounds 75m sale of the Ritz Hotel in London.

After delays, Humberside's Keadby power station, where Trafs is lead contractor, will be commissioned before Christmas. Hongkong Land, a major shareholder, has reaffirmed its commitment as a long-term investor.

"After the results, net worth won't be a million miles away from breaching banking covenants," said Mark Cusack, an analyst at brokers UBS. "Where do we go from here? That's the $64,000 question."