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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
P&O charts course back to profit
A P&O ferry
P&O sees profits heading in the right direction
Shipping and ports company P&O has steamed back to a first-half profit after booming trade in Asia boosted its businesses.

But a weaker tourism market dented its ferry operations, which make up about one-fifth of its overall business.

The firm posted a pre-tax profit of 3.3m ($5.3m) in the first six months of the year, compared with a loss of 44.2m during the same period a year ago when earnings dived at its Anglo-Dutch container shipping joint venture P&O Nedlloyd.

"Obviously last year was lousy (for Nedlloyd)," chairman Jeffrey Sterling said. "We reiterate that it remains a top priority to reduce exposure," he added, without giving a timetable for selling off parts of the company.

Huge expansion

"We are... confident that we will achieve a significantly better result this year than in 2002, with further progress in both profits and group restructuring in 2004," Mr Sterling said.

Operating profits from its Asian terminals were up 21%, driven by a 32% rise in volumes with a particularly strong showing from the Chinese ports of Quingdao and Shekou.

With both ports already operating near capacity, huge expansion plans are in place which will make Quingdao one of the 10 biggest container ports in the world.

Meanwhile, car numbers on its key Dover-Calais ferry route were down by around 15% in the first six months of this year with hot weather at home and the strength of the euro putting off travellers.

First-half losses in the ferries business widened to 17.5m from 11.9m a year ago, but with the peak summer period falling in the second half, ferries remained on course for a profitable year.

P&O said it was comfortable with analysts expectations of full-year pre-tax profits before exceptional items of between 92m and 110m in 2003.

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