Associated British Ports is not a utility, is not a monopoly, and should not be subject to the Labour party's windfall tax, chairman Sir Keith Stuart said yesterday. "There is an Ofgas, Ofwat, Oftel and Offer. But there is no Ofport."
If Labour did impose a tax on ABP, "it would drive jobs and business to places like Rotterdam, a subsidised port," he said.
Charles Orange, finance director, also shrugged off fears that the surge in sterling would damage UK exports and the group's business.
"Our revenues and payments are expressed in pounds, and any fall in exports would be counter-balanced by a rise in imports," he said.
Income from property resumed growth in the second half of the year, and could benefit from the upturn in the property market.
But the City was disappointed with the results for 1996, which saw cargo handled rise by 3.3 per cent to 118 million tonnes and turnover increase 4.7 per cent to pounds 247.2m.
Pre-tax profits for the year rose 5.8 per cent to pounds 93.5m after deducting an expected pounds 3m charge to get out of a loss-making pipe-coating joint venture.
Analysts had been expecting anything between pounds 95m and pounds 100m, and the shares, which had climbed 20 per cent since the middle of December, fell back 12.5p from the overnight peak of 318p. Only the dividend met expectations, increasing almost 20 per cent to 7.75p.
ABP plans another year of heavy capital investment, although it is unlikely to repeat last year's pounds 83m.
Further out there are plans to develop both Hull and Immingham. The chairman is still hopeful of winning the contract to run the port of Ipswich, which he said was now a shadow of its former self.
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