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Ricardo pre-tax profits tumble

The worst trading conditions for a decade have been blamed on a reversal in the fortunes of UK engineering consultancy Ricardo.

Following seven years of consecutive earnings growth a series of project cancellations in the first half of the financial year saw its profit before tax, goodwill amortisation and exceptional costs fall from £16.1m to £1.8m.

Turnover increased from £136.6m to £146m including the benefits of the first full year’s trading from the PROTOtechnik-IFT acquisition in Germany.

Ricardo’s 2003/2004 profit before tax pre-goodwill and redundancy costs was £1.8m, but its pre-tax loss inclusive of these items was £2.8m.

However, the British engineering consultancy sees more encouraging prospects ahead, although the automotive industry remains "challenging".

Ricardo says capital expenditure in the new financial year and subsequent years is likely to be reduced.

Much of the blame for the comparatively poor results has been put on three sudden programme cancellations compounded by an automotive industry downturn. Ricardo reacted by cutting 20% of its UK workforce.

This resulted in a £10m reduction in the cost base. In the second half productivity increased, order intake and total order book grew to £53m.

In the US, Ricardo traded profitably for the year but margins were depressed. In Germany, the PROTOtechnik acquisition completed its first full year of trading and was profitable throughout the year.

In Asia Ricardo has established a Tokyo office with two permanent senior staff members from the UK and significant back up from local partner Horiba. Activity in Japan is growing steadily, as is the volume of work that is being placed with Ricardo by Japanese manufacturers in the UK and US. Ricardo says it’s actively developing business in China with both domestic and Chinese/Western joint venture companies. Business from India, Korea and Malaysia has also been growing at a "good pace".

Ricardo Strategic Consulting grew sales but was loss-making, though it is expected to be profitable in the first half of the new financial year.

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