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Rise among Rollers pushes Vickers to doubled profits

VICKERS, the Rolls-Royce cars and Challenger tanks group, doubled profits to pounds 16m before tax in the first half.

The figures were boosted by rising sales of Rolls-Royce and Bentley luxury cars. However, the order from the Government for 259 Challenger 2 tanks - worth pounds 800m over 10 years - underpins the company's recovery from recession.

Vickers sold 701 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys - at a price of between pounds 120,000 and pounds 200,000 each - in the first half of the year against 683 last time.

The company said it was also seeing more demand for customised cars, adding that special features - such as bomb-proofing - produced wider profit margins.

Despite the profits improvement, stockbroking analysts were disappointed that the company reported sluggish trading conditions in the US. Sales have suffered particularly from the 10 per cent tax levied by Washington on all imported luxury cars.

The performance of Vickers' medical-equipment business also disappointed. The company did not break down the figures, but Sir Colin Chandler, chief executive, said: 'The medical division has experienced mixed fortunes, leading to a reduced contribution compared with the same period last year.'

Group sales were static at pounds 330m but the pre-tax profit margin was 4.8 per cent, up from 2.5 per cent.

Most of the improvement came from lower operating costs. No jobs were lost in the half-year, but the group began to draw benefits from a programme of redundancies stretching back to 1990 that has seen workforce numbers fall from 12,000 to 9,500.

Earnings per share rose 1.9p to 3.6p and the dividend was lifted from 1.25p to 1.75p.

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