Owners pays former directors pounds 1.5m: Shares surge as City warms to remedial action taken at holiday company

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OWNERS Abroad has paid pounds 1.5m in compensation to Howard Klein, Roger Allard and Geoffrey Stone, who resigned as directors last summer in the wake of a shock profit warning that sent the share price crashing from 100p to 62p.

Shares in the UK's third-largest tour operator rose 20p to 120p yesterday as analysts warmed to the actions of the new management, led by Michael Julien, who replaced Mr Klein as chairman, and Francis Baron, who succeeded Mr Allard as chief executive.

Investment support has revived even though Owners has abandoned the previous management's promise of a 43 per cent increase in dividends for the year to 31 October.

Owners has cut the final dividend from 2.1p to 1.4p, pegging the year's payout at 3.5p. Unforeseen circumstances, Mr Baron said, had ambushed the pledge to raise the payout.

Taxable profits for 1992/3 collapsed from pounds 25.5m to pounds 5.8m. However, Mr Baron said: 'The results of our actions should increasingly become apparent during 1994 with their full effect delivered in 1995 and beyond.'

Results for 1992/3 were struck after pounds 12m of exceptional costs that, besides the compensation payments, included a pounds 4.9m charge for defending Owners against the bid from Airtours.

One of the biggest steps taken by Mr Baron since he joined in November has been the removal of five layers of management on the tour operating side with the loss of 260 jobs.

He said the board was pushing ahead with a three-point strategy focusing on costs, information systems and brand positioning. He hinted that Owners' brand portfolio might be reduced and that the company's name might be changed.

He also announced the purchase for a 'moderate sum' of the outstanding 75 per cent stake in International Travel Holdings, the largest tour operator in Canada.

ITH lost pounds 1.4m on sales of pounds 223m last year, but is now trading profitably. Owners' results this year will include a nine-month contribution from ITH.

One problem outside Owners' control, however, is directional selling - the practice of tour operators offering incentives to travel agents they own to sell their holidays the hardest.

Owners does not own any travel agents but does have an alliance with Thomas Cook, the third- largest agency in the UK.

(Photograph omitted)

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