Charles Hurst's pre-tax profits hit £8.7m
Car firm predicts its sales in 2015 will also speed up
Charles Hurst, one of Northern Ireland's biggest car retailers, has announced a 45% jump in pre-tax profits to over £8.7m for 2014.
The company, which has 11 outlets in the province including tyre outlets as well as car franchises, said it had been helped by recovery in new and used cars markets. Its results come despite post-downturn sales of new cars in Northern Ireland continuing to slump behind the UK - though Charles Hurst's used car arm remains strong.
Turnover at the company, which has been part of Lookers plc since 1996, was up 13.2% to £448.2m in the year to December 31 2014 - up from £396m the year before.
Its annual report said the good times should continue. "The company has made a good start to the current financial year and we continue to outperform the new retail car market," it read.
"Aftersales continues to perform well, with the result that the company is ahead of budget and prior year. We expect the result for the first half year to be ahead of both budget and last year.
"The new car market is expected to show further growth in 2015, with the used car market stable."
Colin McNab, operations director at Charles Hurst Group, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The company's strong results reflect a broad recovery in the market for used and new vehicles, which highlights a general improvement in consumer confidence.
"Our Usedirect division continued to perform particularly well, further strengthening our position as a market leader in this sector. Northern Ireland's car market continues to be well-supported by competitive finance deals, with record-low deposits and upfront transparent monthly pricing arrangements, as well as a wide choice of vehicles.
"Demand for fleet and business vehicles also remained strong, and our aftersales and parts business continues to experience growth."
According to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Retailers, there were 6,057 new cars sold in Northern Ireland in the month of June - up 4.67% on June 2014.
That percentage increase contrasts with other parts of the UK, where new car sales growth has sped ahead.
Sales in England were up 13.5% and sales in Scotland - where Charles Hurst also operates the Taggarts brand - up 12%.
Mr McNab said: "At Charles Hurst, the strength of our business continues to be built on the hard work and commitment of our staff - and our workforce lies at the heart of our success." Responding to May's figures for new car sales in Northern Ireland - when sales had fallen by 3.19% on May 2014 - Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said new car sales had been slower in 2015.
"This is the most tangible indicator of consumer confidence and suggests that consumers are reluctant to splash out on big ticket expenditure items," he added.
And recent rises in petrol prices were also making consumers "sceptical about the durability of the recent recovery in disposable incomes," Mr Ramsey claimed.