Print chief hits at VAT threat: St Ives advances pounds 1m in full year and sees little sign of UK recovery

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The Independent Online
MILES EMLEY, new chairman of St Ives, Britain's largest independent printer, warned the Government of dire consequences for the industry if VAT is imposed on books and newspapers.

'The threat of imposition of VAT on some of our products represents a continuing uncertainty,' said Mr Emley, who replaces St Ives' founder Bob Gavron.

Mr Emley, a former corporate financier, said there had been only a modest recovery in UK markets, and conditions in the United States had deteriorated in the second half. 'The industry simply could not absorb the extra costs of VAT,' he said.

The company yesterday announced that taxable profits for the year to end-July rose pounds 1m to pounds 22.1m, on turnover of pounds 221.3m.

'During the year there was little sign of improvement in most of our markets,' Mr Emley said. 'The modest recovery in the UK economy that was experienced towards the end of our financial year has been mainly export-led. As most of our markets depend directly or indirectly on consumer expenditure, this has not been of benefit.

'Against this background our principal objectives have been to maintain and improve quality and service standards, to optimise sales mix in each of our businesses and to control costs.'

Margins at the pre-interest and pre-tax levels were almost static, at 9.5 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. The magazine division was hit by seasonal changes as publishers cut the sizes of their summer issues more than usual.

Book printing did better, helped by an increased share of the international Bible and reference book market.

Burrups, St Ives' financial printing operation, was boosted by increased corporate activity. It produced documents for the ICI/Zeneca demerger, BT3 and the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity.

Mr Emley said Burrups hoped to capture business in the run-up to France's privatisation programme, and had opened a sales office in Paris.

Business in the US took a dive in the second half, especially in medical titles, because President Bill Clinton's healthcare review hit advertising spending.

Capital spending in the year of pounds 18.7m included the modernisation of production facilities in the US, and outstripped depreciation charges of pounds 16.3m.

Mr Emley said the balance sheet remained strong, with no net debt. And despite adverse currency movements, St Ives ended the year with cash reserves of pounds 21.6m ( pounds 13.5m).

The final dividend of 4p makes 5.5p (5.25p) for the year, on earnings unchanged at 15.2p.