`Difficult' trading for Doulton


Royal Doulton, the British ceramics group, in which Waterford Wedgwood has a 14.9 per cent stake, has announced a reduction in pre-tax losses to £29.6 million (€48.5 million) in 1999 from £36.8 million sterling in 1998. However, sales fell by 20 per cent to £190.3 million (€311 million) and an operating loss of £18.5 million was incurred, compared with a profit of £9.7 million previously.

The company's chairman, Mr Hamish Grossart, described trading as "very difficult", but stressed that "behind the poor operating results, much has been achieved in the first full year of a four-year turn-round programme".

Net debt has been reduced by three-fifths to £17.8 million and the gearing has been reduced from 61 per cent to 26 per cent. Worldwide employment was reduced by 24 per cent to 5,700. "With a repaired balance sheet, and like-for-like sales in the first two months of 2000 in line with last year, the worst appears to be behind us," said Mr Grossart.

When Waterford Wedgwood acquired its 14.9 per cent stake last year, Royal Doulton sought clarification of the group's intentions. Meetings did not result in the companies working together.

Waterford Wedgwood purchased the Royal Doulton shares at 90p sterling per share. The share price was unchanged at 92.5p in London yesterday.