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Disposals put HR Owen in profit

Half-year results from HR Owen at the end of last month show that Nick Lancaster’s business is still trading at a loss, though profit from the sale of businesses allowed the prestige car group to report a return to profit of £1m.

Figures to the end of June 2006 show an operating loss before exceptional items of £302,000 on revenues of £118m, but profits from disposals of £2.043m.

In his statement to the stock exchange, chairman John MacArthur said that downsizing to a quarter of the original size had eliminated bank debt and had put cash in the bank. There is a plan under consideration to return cash to shareholders.

However, chief executive Lancaster has informed the Stock Exchange that he is considering a management buy out, which would involve taking the company private.

In the seven years it has been a listed company on the main market, shareholders have had an interesting ride. HR Owen lost a third of its value in 1999, peaked at 220p in 2004 and squeaked above its 163p 1999 price last week on the announcement of the possible bid from Lancaster and his team.

The group had 44 sites at peak but is now down to 10, with six of them the core sites from which to run the new-scale business.

The bright spot is the Specialist car division, which is said to be trading ahead of last year. It has a newly-acquired Alfa business trading alongside a colourful line-up of Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls-Royce.

Lancaster, who with his family owns 22% of the company, sits on the shareholder register alongside two drummers – Phil Collins and Nick Mason – and the best-known tactical investor in dealer groups, Jack Petchy of Trefick.

The second and third largest holders are Petchy at 17.5% and an America family trust, Shelton, at 11%. New Zealand car retailer Colin Giltrap is also a major holder.

Lancaster has stepped out of daily contact with the company while the board considers the possibility of an MBO. He is awaiting developments at his home in south France.

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