St Ives set for acquisitions

ST IVES, the printing group, is poised to hit the acquisition trail in the US and continental Europe in the next few months.

The plans emerged as the company reported an almost 5 per cent advance in taxable profits to pounds 21m for the year to 31 July, on sales down from pounds 218m to pounds 208m.

Robert Gavron, the company's chairman and largest shareholder, said that the group was likely to make an overseas purchase 'sooner rather than later'.

St Ives, Britain's biggest magazine and financial printer, has long held ambitions to expand its activities on the Continent and in the US. Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with Merrill, one of America's biggest financial printers, enabling it to undertake multinational printing projects.

The results, which were better than market expectations, stem from cost-cutting and improved market share. The company has made capital investment of about pounds 140m in the past five years, helping it to boost profit margins without cutting production capacity.

The number of printing sites has fallen from 30 five years ago to 17 last year, with another closure expected in the current year.

Cost-cutting pushed up operating margins from 9.1 to 9.7 per cent last year, despite a profit fall in magazine printing due to the impact of recession on publishers.

With the bulk of the capital expenditure complete, the company is benefiting from strong cash flow. It closed the year with pounds 13m net cash, up from pounds 124,000 in 1991.

Earnings per share rose from 14.6p to 15.2p. The final dividend of 3.75p lifts the total by 5 per cent to 5.25p.