And company chairman Sir John Egan told shareholders at the annual meeting he is confident the automotive services group will perform ahead of expectations this year.
Profit before tax rose by 21.1% to £135.8m in the last financial year. The positive end to negotiations with HM Customs and Excise on the overpayment of VAT had contributed a large proportion of the positive results.
He also said Inchcape's UK Retail division had seen profits rise by 9.3% from £14m to £15.3m. Sir John also gave a positive assessment of Inchcape's businesses in Greece, Belgium, Australia and Hong Kong. In Greece profits increase 41.5%, Belgium by 13.4% and in Australia and New Zealand sales reached a record 29,828 units in the 2003 financial year. In Hong Kong profits reached £22.6m.
On 2004, Sir John says: “Our UK retail business is starting to benefit from the changes made in 2003 to management, processes and the dealership network. Trading has also started well, aided by the record market for the first quarter of the year. We are confident that the UK will raise profits in the year, continuing the trend started in 2001.”
“The year has started better than expected. Trading conditions in our key markets are strong and our financial performance is well ahead of last year. Although still quite early in the year, we look forward to the full year with confidence.” he said.
Inchcape is in 'detailed' discussions with Ford's Premier Automotive Group about future opportunities, while discussions with VW are ongoing.