Sema set for a year of bedding down

Sema Group, the Anglo-French computer services group, said yesterday that 1997 would be a year of consolidation after three acquisitions last year. Sema said that of the new purchases, British Rail Business Systems was performing well while Telis, the fixed telephony group should break even in 1997 and move into profit in 1998. Syntax, the former facilities management arm of Olivetti, is being integrated and made a significant contribution to the 1996 results.

Announcing a 35 per cent rise in 1996 profits to pounds 50m, Pierre Bonelli, Sema's chief executive, said the company would spend the current year bedding down its new deals but added: "Obviously, if there is a good opportunity passing by we will take it."

He added that following the success of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, where Sema was the official information systems supplier, the group is expecting a similar involvement in the Sydney games in 2000. However, he acknowledged that the contract for the World Cup football tournament in France next year had gone to Electronic Data systems of the US.

The company is concentrating on the fast growing Anglo-French information telecoms and business systems markets this year. Though the company is expanding into Germany and the US, Sema plans to focus mainly on organic growth.

Spending on technology has been growing rapidly in telecoms and Sema has signed an agreement with Global One, the alliance of Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom.

Sema, which is quoted inLondon and Paris, saw profits rise 35 per cent to pounds 50m in the year to 31 December. Sales increased by a similar amount to pounds 927m. Organic growth was 20 per cent and the order book grew by 66 per cent to pounds 1.25bn. Last year's pounds 99m rights issue - the company's first - has left Sema with net cash of pounds 18m.

Sema's telecoms business grew by 44 per cent and its business systems division, which includes high-margin outsourcing contracts as well as systems integration operations, saw 46 per cent growth.

Sema is hoping for expanding workloads as companies prepare computer systems for European monetary union and the "millennium problem" of adapting computers to the year 2000.

Sema's shares, which have surged from 532p to 1275p over the past year, closed 11.5p down on the day at 1238.5p.