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Shares rise on ABP advance

THE CITY warmed to a 14 per cent jump in interim dividend from Associated British Ports yesterday, with shares in the UK's largest port operator closing 9p higher at 272p, writes Tom Stevenson.

Sir Keith Stuart, chairman, said the company was benefiting from upturn in the UK economy and expansion of world trade. Investment, currently running at five times the rate of depreciation, would continue at a high level.

Pre-tax profits 29 per cent higher at pounds 38m benefited from the virtual completion of a redundancy programme. Severance costs fell from pounds 4m in the first half of 1993 to pounds 800,000. Interest costs were also lower.

Freight volumes were 4 per cent higher at 55 million tonnes. Southampton, the second-largest UK port after Felixstowe, had record throughput and the company is installing extra handling equipment to cope with demand.

Income from port-related and other property investments rose, with rapid progress on lettings on recent developments. Once fully let, the development portfolio, in the books at pounds 72m, will be sold to reduce debts.

Government approval for the Cardiff Bay Barrage had given a boost to plans to develop the company's land holdings in South Wales and 50 acres at Grimsby had been let to Toyota and VAG for car imports and exports.

Gearing fell over the past year from 60 to 51 per cent with net assets up from 160p per share to 180p.

Following a 29 per cent increase in earnings per share from 5.9p to 7.6p, the interim dividend rose from 1.75p to 2p.