Two depart as ACT shares slide

Shares in ACT, the computer software group, crashed to a new low yesterday, after a profits warning and a boardroom clearout that saw the departure of Mike Hart, group managing director. The company, formed out of the old Apricot computer hardware business, said its profits for the year to March would be substantially below market expectations, because of poor trading in the UK and restructuring costs of £3m. Brokers chopped their forecasts from around £25m to £16m and the shares, which stood at a high of 187p 10 months ago, dropped 18p to close at 74p.

The warning was the company's second in this financial year. Last June, ACT said trading this year would be adversely affected by the restructuring of its financial products division. The group made £28m before tax last year.

ACT has grown rapidly by acquisition in the financial software field, but it is the original business in the UK that has caused its problems. The acquired international operations, which account for about two-thirds of profits, are trading healthily, according to the company.

Kieran Nagle, who ran the banking software arm based in Dublin, moves up to become group chief executive. Roger Foster, who founded the business, remains executive chairman.

Mr Foster said that the integration of the group's two international divisions with the UK business left no room for Mr Hart, or for Paul Newton, the director who ran the second leg of the international operations.

Mr Hart, was on a three-year rolling contract at a salary of £220,000 a year, while Mr Newton's two-year rolling contract paid £150,000. Mr Foster said he expected any settlement not to reach the total entitlement of almost £1m.

The restructuring, aimed at attacking the cost base, will result in a further 60 redundancies.

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