View from City Road: TDG stuck in the mud

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The Independent Online
ANYONE looking for early spring confidence among UK companies will not find it at Transport Development Group, one of the economy's workhorses which stores, hauls and distributes industrial and consumer goods around the country.

Martin Llowarch, chairman, can see no stirrings of a pick-up in activity, despite winning a contract to distribute centrally Cadbury's entire output of Easter eggs.

This is all the more galling because of TDG's efforts to improve its efficiency in recent years, reversing the previous policy of buying a company if its main assets moved and had wheels.

Last year pre-tax profits came in at pounds 33.5m after a net pounds 2.7m loss on disposals and on closures among TDG's continuing operations. This compares with a restated FRS3 pre-tax figure of pounds 16.9m in 1991 which bears the brunt of promoting extraordinary items above the line.

At the operating level, net of interest, profits fell by pounds 2.7m to pounds 36.2m, thanks largely to a disastrous pounds 3.3m turnaround to losses of pounds 2.1m in France.

Action has been taken but France is still budgeted to lose money this year. Meanwhile, pressure on margins in the UK remains strong, particularly in haulage and plant hire, where TDG has been happy to run down plant for cash.

Outside France, the rest of Continental Europe, which chipped in 25 per cent of operating profits last year, may not prove resilient, even with translation gains.

Balance sheet and cash flow remain strong but on clean pre-tax profits of pounds 38m in 1993 a multiple of 17 at 285p, down 10p, and a yield of 4.7 per cent is no bargain until the UK economy really does pick up.

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