Fitzwilton reports interim profits up 13% to £5.1m


FITZWILTON, the industrial holding company with interests in the Wellworth supermarket chain and Waterford Wedgwood, has reported a 13 per cent rise in pre tax profits to £5.1 million in the first half of 1996.

Interim figures for the group, issued yesterday, were broadly in line with brokers' forecasts. The shares traded at 54p, up 2p on the day, in Dublin.

The company's main business, Wellworth's, which has 39 shops throughout Northern Ireland, put in a strong performance in the six months to the end of June. Operating profits rose 10 per cent from £8.5 million in the first half of 1995 to £9.5 million.

Growing profits at Waterford Wedgwood, in which Fitzwilton has a 12.9 per cent stake, also boosted the group's performance, contributing £1.6 million in the six month period. Fitzwilton's holding in the giftware group is now valued at £70 million.

Profits at its road sign business, Rennicks, were lower than expected, contributing £400,000 in the first half. This was largely due to the long lead time in delivering orders, according to Fitzwilton chief executive, Mr Kevin McGoran, who predicting a pick up in the second part of the year.

Commenting on the figures yesterday, Fitzwilton chairman, Dr Tony O'Reilly, said they showed a satisfactory" performance by the group. "The progress which has been made in the first half of the year at Wellworth's and Waterford Wedgwood has continued since then and gives us confidence for the outcome for the year as a whole."

Sales at Wellworth's grew strongly this year, up 9.7 per cent on the same period last year. The supermarket chain also saw some improvement in profit margins.

Mr McGoran said changes in buying, store layout and the rationalisation of its distributions business had helped to bring margins to around 7 per cent this year.

The outlook for the rest of the year remained positive, he said with the recent unrest in Northern Ireland having little impact on its business. Wellworth's, which has two stores in the Border counties of the Republic, has no further plans to expand in the Republic, but will look to grow its share of the Northern Ireland market, according to Mr McGoran. "There are still opportunities for Wellworth's in Northern Ireland. It's more logical for us to stay there for the moment."

Earnings per share from the group's operations rose 16 per cent to £1.37. Fitzwilton has declared an interim dividend of £1.10 an increase of 5 per cent on last year interim dividend.

Dr O'Reilly holds the biggest shareholding in Fitzwilton, with 14.56 per cent of the shares, according to the most recent annual report, followed by the British fund management group, Phillips & Drew. The third biggest shareholder is Dr O'Reilly's brother in law, Mr Peter Goulandris, who owns 12.44 per cent of the company. Dunnes Stores also retains a substantial shareholding of 9 per cent in the company.