Pre-tax profits double at Wilson & Horton Holdings

 

Wilson & Horton Holdings, the New Zealand subsidiary of Independent News & Media, will "move strongly" into electronic commerce this year, according to chief executive Mr John Sanders.

Announcing a doubling of profits before tax and exceptional items to 56 million New Zealand dollars (€28 million) for 1999, Mr Sanders said W & H will move into e-commerce with the launch by its associate, iTouch New Zealand, of a range of products. These WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and IVR products will allow mobile telephone users to access news updates and undertake transactions.

In addition, the group plans to take equity stakes and form joint ventures with Internet companies "to harness the properties of our key information resources", he said.

Profit growth in 1999 was driven by cost reductions and a strengthening New Zealand economy. Chairman Mr John Maasland said positive trading conditions have continued into 2000 with increasing advertising volumes and commercial printing revenues. But he warned that an expected increase in New Zealand interest rates could dampen performance in the second half.

Mr Sanders said that all key subsidiaries produced vigorous performances and the group was well placed "for exciting growth in new directions" this year. A once-off gain of NZ $161 million on foreign borrowings helped to boost profit before tax to NZ$ 214.2 million (€107 million). This compares with a loss of NZ $129 million (€62 million) in 1998 after exceptional charges of NZ $156 million (€75 million).

The latest results show a strong improvement in the second half of the year when the effect of earlier cost reductions and the continuing improvement in the economy fed through to the bottom line.

Strongly performing newspaper brands such as the New Zealand Herald put the group in a good position to take advantage of opportunities in electronic commerce, while the online W & H interactive was a strong performer, Mr Sanders said. The decline in the Herald's market share had been arrested and most of its advertising sectors had outperformed the market, he said.

W & H Print, the largest commercial and security printer in New Zealand, reported a strong performance, while the specialist publishing division performed well, he said.

"With most of our divisions already making a strong showing in 2000 we are well down the track to achieving our goals of building a world-class business," he commented.