Taylor Nelson meets forecasts: Operating margins improve despite problems in consumer goods sector

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S leading market research company, Taylor Nelson, boosted pre-tax profits by 41 per cent to pounds 4.1m last year, writes Susie Pine-Coffin.

The result, in line with expectations, reflected an 18 per cent jump in turnover to almost pounds 56m. Helped by sweeping cost-cutting during the previous year, operating margins improved from 6.2 to 7.4 per cent despite difficult conditions in the fast-moving consumer goods sector and in Continental Europe.

Earnings surged from 0.38p to 1.26p a share. The final dividend of 0.32p lifts the total payout by half to 0.45p. The shares edged up 0.25p to 31.25p.

But mounting problems at Infoscan NMRA, in which Taylor has a 10 per cent stake, saw Infoscan's losses pile up from almost pounds 300,000 to more than pounds 500,000.

Tony Cowling, the chief executive, hinted that the business required substantial investment before it could be turned round.

The group planned to grow further by developing telemarketing, database services and standardised survey packages, which offered customers better value for their money, Mr Cowling said.

In addition, Taylor is diversifying away from its traditional customer base in the industrial, computer and consumer sectors into new areas such as health care, where orders improved by 35 per cent last year.

Mr Cowling said much of the demand for healthcare research was emanating from US clients who were planning European expansion.

Other markets earmarked for growth include retailing and broadcasting, where fierce competition and deregulation are forcing clients to boost spending on research.

The group is also on the lookout for acquisitions and does not rule out a rights issue to finance deals despite an increase in cash from pounds 6.7m to pounds 8.5m.