GPG still wrangling UK pension liability, Coats first half earnings more than doubles

Coats Group Chief Executive Paul Forman
Guinness Peat Group 12-month price history (NZX.com)

Guinness Peat Group [NZX: GPG] is still grappling with its UK pension liability and has offered to bump up the level of support for the schemes, while announcing a near-trebling in first-half earnings for its Coats threadmaker unit.

GPG, which plans to rebrand as Coats once it settles the pension liability, is still in negotiations with the UK Pensions Regulator and the trustees of the two schemes, which have been holding up its return to shareholders. The investment firm's board has proposed to retain 170 million pounds across the two schemes through cash invested directly in the schemes and cash invested into sponsoring employers of the schemes, it said in a statement. The board had previously agreed to retain 124 million pounds to support the two pension schemes.

As at June 30, the pension obligation was valued at 222 million pounds, up from 178 million pounds six months earlier.

GPG and the trustees of the schemes have until Sept. 30 to make a written submission to the regulator, and any formal hearing would be unlikely to happen before the first half of next year.

The investment firm spent 10 million pounds in advisory fees in 2013 with a further 8 million provided for to deal with anticipated costs in 2014.

GPG has generated about $1.4 billion from the asset sales programme it embarked on in 2011 after a shareholder revolt over plans to split up the company along regional lines saw a board shake-out. It had cash of $734 million as at June 30, and shareholder funds of $782 million.

The investment company's Coats unit, which is now GPG's sole investment, reported a profit of 11 million pounds in the six months ended June 30 from a profit of 4 million pounds a year earlier. Revenue edged down to US$837.1 million from US$839.7 million, due to the British pound strengthening against the greenback, with sales up 2 percent on a like-for-like basis. Operating profit climbed to US$63 million from $59.4 million, driven by gains in the industrial division.

Coats chief executive Paul Forman said the industrial division is expected to keep delivering gains through the rest of the year, and anticipates an improvement in the crafts division, although trading will remain challenging. The threadmaker is undertaking a strategic review of its European, Middle East and Africa crafts division which it expects to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.

"At a group level it is expected that, while operating profit will continue to be impacted by crafts, attributable profit will be in line with market expectations," Forman said.

The shares fell 0.7 percent to 67 cents yesterday, and have gained 14 percent this year. The stock is rated an average 'hold' based on six analyst recommendations compiled by Reuters, with a median target price of 64 cents.

(BusinessDesk)

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