Wary Wickes pulls ahead to pounds 9m half-way

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SHARPLY lower interest payments helped Wickes, the do-it-yourself chain, to double profits in the first half to June, but the company warned that worries about the strength and depth of economic recovery continued to depress consumer confidence, writes Tom Stevenson.

Despite those concerns, the interim dividend was more than doubled from 0.2p to 0.5p after a jump in pre-tax profits from pounds 4.1m to pounds 8.8m. The shares, which have fallen 25 per cent since January, closed 2p higher at 97p.

Retail stores were boosted by an accelerating opening programme, which Henry Sweetbaum, chairman, said had given Wickes a substantially higher market share. He added that 17 new stores would start trading in 1994 with 23 more scheduled for next year.

New outlets helped retail turnover to rise 31 per cent, with an 11 per cent increase in like-for-like sales. Profits were 16 per cent higher.

In Continental Europe, planning difficulties continued to slow the opening programme but an expected six new outlets in 1995 would take the total to 29. Trading in Europe improved with operating profits 11 per cent higher, despite continuing recession in Belgium and France.

Group profits were also boosted by Hunter Timber, which reversed last year's loss of pounds 700,000 into an pounds 800,000 profit.