The group is already seeing improvements in the car and aggregates markets in the US, while housing is getting better both here and over there. But, Lord Hanson said: 'Margins remain tight and it is unlikely that the present signs of recovery will bring forward additional contribution to profit this year.'
His comments came as the group disclosed a small increase in pre-tax profits from pounds 500m to pounds 507m in the six months to March, helped by a pounds 25m benefit from exchange rates. At the trading level, the improvement was more pronounced and profits from continuing operations rose from pounds 449m to pounds 465m. But the tax charge, which benefited from a change in the dividend payments system last year, returned to more normal levels and earnings declined from 8.5p to 7.7p. A 2.85p quarterly dividend will be paid in July.
There were signs that those waiting for another acquisition would be disappointed. David Clarke, deputy chairman of the US operations, said large deals were still under consideration 'but we currently see the greatest potential for expanding our volumes and creating new products through continued capital investment in our own businesses'.
Martin Taylor, vice-chairman, said the same applied in Britain, pointing out that in both markets share prices were expensive.
Net debt rose from pounds 774m to pounds 1.6bn, but that was largely due to exchange differences, and pounds 124m was generated from the operations, compared with pounds 61m absorbed the previous year.