Norcros back on dividend list

Norcros, the industrial conglomerate in the process of unbundling itself, yesterday returned to the dividend list but indicated that long- suffering shareholders may have to wait up to two years for cash to be returned to them.

A special payment to investors has been promised once Norcros completes the sale of its printing and packaging operations to concentrate on ceramics, adhesives and Triton showers activities.

But the disposal of the two remaining printing and packaging businesses - Norprint and Autotype - has been put on hold and yesterday Joe Matthews, chief executive, indicated no sale was imminent.

"The division does not fit in with our long-term plans, but there is more to do before they are in good enough shape to sell. Until we reach a positive cash position share buy-backs or a special dividend are really a non-issue," he said, noting the balance sheet still contained debt.

Mr Matthews added that a pounds 20m property portfolio still had to be unwound, which could take "between 18 months and two years" to complete.

Results for the six months to September showed a net pounds 46m was raised from the sale of two printing and packaging businesses that eliminated the deficit on reserves and allowed Norcros to pay a 1p interim dividend - its first payout for two years.

Norcros also reported a 17 per cent rise in operating profit pounds 6.9m for the group's continuing operations. Pre-tax profits were pounds 51.2m, boosted by the pounds 45.8m in exceptional gains from disposals.

Net borrowings fell by pounds 30m to just under pounds 17m, or 11 per cent of shareholders' funds, versus gearing of 37 per cent in March.

Despite the disappointing news on a special payment, shares in Norcros - as high as 400p in the late Eighties - closed 4p higher at 93p.

Norcros, which escaped a pounds 570m takeover bid from Williams, the industrial conglomerate in 1987, has undergone almost continuous restructuring since Michael Doherty succeeded John Redwood, the former Conservative Party leadership candidate, a year later.