Union profits halved as disposals in Brazil slice into recovery: Vestey group plans float of Australian interests

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LOSSES on the disposal of a canning and ranching business in Brazil have held back recovery at Union International, the Vestey family company that owns the Dewhurst butcher shops.

Although Union cut its debts from pounds 202m to pounds 124.6m last year, the company lost pounds 17m on sales and closures - principally on the Brazilian business. While the blow was softened by the use of provisions, annual pre-tax profits almost halved to pounds 6.5m.

Terry Robinson, Union's chief executive, pointed to the increased profit of pounds 24.7m ( pounds 21m) from the group's on-going businesses. Interest costs have fallen from pounds 32.6m to pounds 21.6m.

Mr Robinson said Union had moved out of intensive care and into the recuperation ward.

Union is pressing ahead with further disposals this year to meet commitments to its bankers.

It wants to sell the remnants of its UK property portfolio and also plans an Australian flotation for its interests in the region. The Australian division turned in an 'outstanding' performance last year, with its canned meat business increasing profits 17 per cent to Adollars 10.6m ( pounds 5.2m). However, bad weather hit lambing in New Zealand, contributing to a sharp fall in New Zealand profitability from NZdollars 24m ( pounds 9.5m) to NZdollars 9m.

Although Union has cut the Dewhurst chain from 1,100 to about 400 branches, Mr Robinson suggested that many non-performing shops remained.

High prices last year for beef and lamb meant the continuing Dewhurst operation made a pounds 370,000 loss after a pounds 3.5m profit in 1992.

Weddle Swift, the British meat wholesaler and trader, and the British Beef abattoirs made modest profits.

Union had sales of pounds 891.5m last year, down from pounds 1.1bn in 1992. Sales from the continuing business rose from pounds 671.8m to pounds 727.7m.