RJB claims coal plans on target

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RJB Mining yesterday failed to dispel continuing doubts about the forecasts backing its £815m purchase of British Coal's English and Welsh assets.

Richard Budge, chief executive, said the business was running to plan on production, sales and other operations, with cash ahead of forecasts. "We are very confident we will achieve what's set out in the prospectus. There are no reasons from the first three months not to believe they are achievable," he said.

Critics have said RJB's coal price and demand projections are too optimistic. Mr Budge said forecasters who had based their criticism on a price for steam coal at £1.08 a gigajoule were now predicting a price of £1.24, just 1p below RJB's projections. There was "no reason to think our forecasts are not prudent", Mr Budge said.

However, Michael Parker, former director of economics at British Coal, took issue with his projections, saying the recent price rise was indicative of short-term movements. Prices were very much influenced by marginal changes in demand. He said he had some difficulty in seeing how RJB could maintain a relatively high price for large volumes of coal after contracts with National Power and PowerGen run out in 1998.

The comments came as RJB reported pre-tax profits 32 per cent up at £16.1m in the year to December, on sales 60 per cent ahead at £119m. The profits were just ahead of the £15m forecast made in December at the time of the £400m cash-raising to fund the deal.

A second interim dividend of 7.3p takes last year's total payout to12.5p, up from 12p. Earnings per share rose to 26.3p from a pro forma 22.7p in 1993.