Belfast Telegraph

Building firm's future looks solid as business increases

By David Elliot and Thomas Molloy

The company which owns builders merchant Macnaughton Blair said the Northern Ireland business has enjoyed a boost to both profits and turnover over the last six months.

Macnaughton Blair's mid-year results revealed a strong performance despite a difficult six months for parent company the Grafton Group.

"Macnaughton Blair increased turnover in its general merchanting business driven primarily by strengthening its market position in the Belfast market and through an increased exposure to public sector projects," Grafton said in a release to the stock market.

"Market coverage improved with the acquisition of branches in Cookstown and Downpatrick.

"Operating profit showed significant improvement with the benefit of increased revenues and an unchanged cost base in the established business."

However, Grafton Group's results continued to reflect the difficulties in the Republic where it operates under the Woodies DIY brand.

There, turnover declined by 8.7% in the first half and daily merchanting revenues were down 12.5% in July and August. Grafton has cut its staff by a quarter and said it could not yet see a bottoming out of the construction market there.

"I wouldn't say it was despair but I wouldn't say there was much in the way of hope. We're really not seeing the Irish market changing very much at all from what it has been over the last couple of years," chief executive Gavin Slark said.

Mr Slark added that he remains comfortable with full-year forecasts for the entire company which predict operating profit of around €64m (£50.6m).

"Although we still see the outlook as a little bit uncertain and it's still challenging, there is more stability in the UK market than there was this time last year," Mr Slark said.

The Dublin-based company posted a 19% rise in first-half operating profit to €31.3m (£24.8m). The company said last month its revenue for the first half had risen by four percent to €1.05bn (£831m).

The company is still targeting double-digit operating profit growth for the year.

And Mr Stark backed a call made last month by rival Travis Perkins for the UK government to do more to boost activity in construction.

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