pounds 50m to spend at Powell Duffryn

Powell Duffryn, the ports to engineering group, is to go on the acquisition trail with around pounds 50m in cash once it completes the disposal of some of its non-core businesses.

The company could gain up to pounds 25m from the disposal of the fuel distribution division and four other businesses, which include a rolling stock operation and a software subsidiary.

Barry Hartiss, Powell Duffryn's chief executive, said he was talking to potential bidders but would not be drawn on a timetable.

Together with the pounds 40.7m raised from disposals since the end of March last year, the group would have in excess of pounds 50m to devote to investment and acquisitions in the two core operations, engineering and ports.

Mr Hartiss said it would be difficult to acquire in the ports sector as most of the main ports were in plc hands. He added that he would be looking at further opportunities in the engineering sector.

"The money's not going to burn a hole in our pockets," he said.

Mr Hartiss became chief executive two years ago and since then has steered the company through a refocusing on its key ports and engineering sectors.

Announcing profits before tax and exceptionals up 4.5 per cent to pounds 44.1m for the year to the end of March, Mr Hartiss said that despite the adverse effect of the strength of sterling on engineering exports, he was more optimistic about the future.

However, a charge of pounds 14.3m, mainly due to losses on disposals of liquid storage terminals, brought profits down to pounds 29.8m.

Mr Hartiss said the sale of the terminals removed the "potentially serious risk" of environmental liabilities, as all but one of the buyers agreed to assume responsibility for past or future contamination of the sites.

Powell Duffryn's final dividend is being held at 17p, leaving the total payout unchanged at 25p.

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