Rank defies critics with upbeat results

RANK, the Odeon to Butlins leisure conglomerate, yesterday claimed to be on the road to recovery after an awful few years which saw its share price plunge to new depths.

Rank defied its growing band of critics by announcing better than expected 1997 results. The group pleased investors by unveiling a rise in underlying pre-tax profits to pounds 303m (pounds 297m) and a 10 per cent jump in earnings per share, causing the shares to rise 9p to 340p.

Andrew Teare, Rank's embattled chief executive, said yesterday: "We are seeing the green shoots of recovery. Our large investment programme is starting to work. It has been a huge job to get it right."

Mr Teare denied that he was facing a management revolt in the wake of the departure of John Garret, head of the group's leisure business, and claimed there would be no further high-profile boardroom casualties: "The board are 100 per cent behind our strategy. The morale is good and our managers are very motivated."

Analysts pointed out that Mr Teare still had a lot of work to do to prove his reforms would be successful. Mark Finnie, leisure analyst at NatWest Securities, said: "There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There are still plenty of questions unanswered but they have bought themselves more time."

Rank's star performer was the Odeon cinema chain, where profits and attendances rose by more than a quarter thanks to films such as The Full Monty, which gave the industry its best year since 1974.

The buoyant British film industry has also prompted Rank to give Pinewood Studios a pounds 10m facelift to increase its capacity by 30 per cent.

Rank is planning to accelerate the expansion of its Hard Rock Cafe chain. Yesterday it announced a deal with a US drinks group to produce a Hard Rock beer which will be launched this spring. The Hard Rock record label, which has sold 120,000 albums in five months will be expanded. Rank is also looking to open 11 new Mecca bingo sites this year, which suggests it is unlikely to buy First Leisure's troubled bingo division.

But the US holiday business had another disappointing performance, as did Tom Cobleigh, which suffered from prolonged delays in new openings.

Rank signalled it was unlikely to launch another share buy-back this year.

The group confirmed it was unlikely to sell any other divisions and would concentrate on revitalising some of its tired brands.