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Vosper shares hit by export delays

SHARES in the British warship builder Vosper Thornycroft fell sharply yesterday after the company warned that several export prospects in the Middle East and Asia were being delayed by funding problems and low oil prices.

A pounds 1bn order from the United Arab Emirates for up to six fast patrol boats, which was expected later this year, has been postponed. Vosper shares fell 23.5p to 866p - a drop of almost 3 per cent.

But Martin Jay, Vosper's chief executive, stressed that the company was still chasing a multitude of further orders in Britain and overseas worth over pounds 1.5bn. He said Vosper remained hopeful of winning more ship orders, while the company was also busy looking for acquisitions to expand its management support services and marine products divisions.

He was speaking as Vosper reported a 7 per cent rise in profits to pounds 33m before tax from pounds 31m a year ago, on turnover of pounds 208m. The dividend was raised 10 per cent to 28.6p a share on earnings up 5p at 66.9p a share.

Profits from shipbuilding rose 6.1 per cent to pounds 25m, but sales fell 30 per cent to pounds 102m. Operating profits from the support services division rose 45 per cent to pounds 3m on turnover up 49 per cent at pounds 58m. Marine products, which specialises in motion control systems for fast ferries, made an operating profit of pounds 4.6m on turnover of pounds 54m, down from pounds 57m last time.

Mr Jay said the fluctuation in shipbuilding margins did not reflect a trend and was due to the way profits were booked in at the end of long- term shipbuilding contracts, with two large export orders for Oman and Qatar completed last year.

The order book ended the year up pounds 90m at pounds 490m - enough work for two more years - and net cash stands at pounds 126m.