City Briefs: Ricardo; Ocado; F W Thorpe

Ricardo drives up profits despite near flat revenues

AUTOMOTIVE and engineering consultancy Ricardo has seen annual pre-tax profit increase by 14%, despite revenues remaining relatively flat.

The company, which has a major design facility in Leamington Spa, saw full year revenue increase slightly to £197.4m (2011: £196.5m). Pre-tax profit rose to £17.6m (2011: £15.4m).

The firm, which employs more than 1,700 consultants, engineers, scientists and support staff world-wide, said it remained confident for the year ahead with a strong platform for growth. Advance orders stand at £107m – the same as this time last year.

In its annual results statement, the company said it had delivered “a solid result against an uncertain economic backdrop”, with order inflows from multiple geographies and business segments. Strong demand from the automotive, commercial and off-highway vehicle sectors helped to underpin performance.

The company, whose client list includes the world’s major transportation OEMs, supply chain organisations, energy companies, financial institutions and governments, also won additional business from new sectors including rail and clean energy.

The UK business saw a strong performance both for Technical Consulting and Performance Products, with high levels of delivery for Foxhound and McLaren sports car engines. However, this was offset by weaker markets within the US and Germany.

Dave Shemmans, Chief Executive Officer said: “With profit before tax up 14%, a strong order book and a robust balance sheet, the platform for the future of the business remains very healthy. There is a good balance in both our product and service portfolio and our customer base, which provides for risk mitigation as well as offering continued growth potential.

“Our work in leading-edge emissions control and fuel efficiency continues to be in high demand as global industries face ever tightening legislation and toughening demands for increased fuel efficiency. Despite an unpredictable world economy, we remain confident for the future. Our continued investment in the very best of talent and technology, a robust flexible model and a strong business offering of in-demand solutions to an increasing client base provides a good forward business platform.”

Ocado’s new distribution centre progresses to schedule

ONLINE supermarket and delivery group Ocado has said development of its massive new distribution centre in Warwickshire is progressing to plan.

In a trading update it said testing and commissioning of the customer fulfilment centre (CFC) had progressed during the second quarter and operations remained on schedule to begin in the first quarter of 2013.

For the 12 weeks to August 5, 2012, the company said gross sales had increased 9.9% to £162.6m (2011: £147.9m).  Year to date gross sales growth to the end of the third quarter was 11.3%.

Average orders per week during the 12-week period increased by 8.6% to 120,494 (2011: 110,945).

It said that as expected the one-off Diamond Jubilee and Olympic events influenced ordering patterns during the period. However, the forward planning and IT solutions undertaken to prepare for these events enabled the firm to maintain its customer service record.

It said while it did not expect consumer pressure and volatility to ease in the immediate future, it anticipated an increase in sales growth during Q4.

Lighting group switched on by profits boost

SPECIALIST lighting manufacturer F W Thorpe has seen a 5% increase in full year revenue and a 9% growth in pre-tax profit.

The Redditch group said it remained committed to further growth and was optimistic about its prospects.

Revenue reached £55.6m (2011: £52.8m), while pre-tax profit reached £12.7m (2011: £11.6m).

In his statement, chairman Andrew Thorpe said: “A 5% rise in operating profit is perhaps not what some commentators may have expected looking at our half year figures.  Times are strange, however, and some of our subsidiaries as well as our largest firm, Thorlux, experienced a noticeable downturn in orders during May and June 2012, the two final months of our financial year and those which normally provide the ‘fruit on the sideboard’ in the way of a good finale to the year.

“The reasons for this occurrence are not clear especially as the first two months of the new financial year, July and August, have seen trading for those companies affected, return to the levels of last year.  Indeed, the recently published UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index which had been falling in recent months, showed a sharp rise in August and somewhat correlates with our experiences.  Elements within the group have also reported a notable slowdown in business from the areas affected by the Olympic Games.”

He said investment in the group had continued during the year and had centred around four majors – the installation of the £1m sheet metal laser punching machine at Thorlux, the purchase of a new 1,000 sqm factory, the start of a new venture, TRT Lighting, and the purchase of Portland Lighting in Aldridge.

Export sales excluding the previous sizeable contribution from former firm Mackwell Electronics increased 47% during the financial year. Thorlux contributed a 42% increase with ‘one off’ order contributions from Solite Europe and Compact Lighting.