P&O has eye on takeover chances

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The Independent Online
THE P&O chairman, Lord Sterling, said yesterday he believed that the current economic difficulties could provide expansion opportunities for the group.

Speaking after announcing a 12 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 138m at the halfway stage, Lord Sterling said the recent problems would open up a wealth of takeover opportunities at attractive prices, although he insisted there were no specific deals in the pipeline.

"It is worth remembering that it is times like these that create opportunities," he said.

City reaction to the figures was broadly positive. The shares rose 2p to 687p.

Recent focus has been on consolidation with the merger of the cross-Channel ferry operations with those of Swedish rival Stena becoming effective in March of this year. Lord Sterling said a large part of the cost savings from the merger had been achieved.

The joint venture is split 60 per cent in P&O's favour. The group has also merged its container operations with Nedlloyd of Holland. The joint ventures reported half-year results last month.

Profits at Bovis, the construction arm, were up 40 per cent. The P&O chairman dismissed reports that the group was looking at a sale.

Lord Sterling said: "I would be surprised if it is not part of the P&O group next year."