Ashtead raises dividend as profits soar – jp

THE TOOL HIRE SHOP, New Cross, part of Ashtead plant hire

Equipment rental group Ashtead increased its dividend and announced a £200m share buyback on Tuesday after bucking trends among its publicly listed peers and reporting a 24 per cent rise in full-year profits.

The FTSE 100 company, which does 80 per cent of its business in the US, reported a pre-tax profit of £617m for the year to April 30.

Improved margins and a particularly strong fourth quarter helped revenue and profits come in ahead of analyst expectations. Full-year revenue increased 19 per cent to £2.5bn.

Geoff Drabble, chief executive, said: “Obviously its been another good year, and we’ve seen a good steady improvement in the first six weeks of the new year, so we’re feeling very confident.”

Mr Drabble believes the construction industry, which provides around 45 per cent of Ashtead’s business, will continue to see moderate growth outside of the residential sector.

“Those of us who lived through 2009 and 2010 are very cautious, we don’t want to create a bubble again. I think the growth we have seen has been very responsible and we anticipate it continuing for a number of years ahead.”

The company is to pay a final dividend of 18.5p, making 22.5p for the full year, a 48 per cent rise on 2015.

Ashtead’s positivity contrasts with recent disappointing results and downbeat guidance from its biggest rivals. In April, United Rentals, the largest rental group in the US, reported a 20 per cent fall in first-quarter profits, and cut full-year forecasts.

However, Mr Drabble said its issues were company-specific, and did not reflect the strength of the wider industry, which is dominated by thousands of small businesses.

“I’d love to say it’s the genius of the management team, but in fact it comes down to sector focus — United Rentals are heavily exposed to oil and gas and heavily exposed to Canada, they’re each about 1 per cent of our business.”

In the UK, HSS Hire’s first year on the London Stock Exchange featured a string of profit warnings and a management overhaul, and shares in Speedy Hire have fallen almost 50 per cent in the last year.

“Poor profit performance is an internal issue not a market issue,” Mr Drabble added. “HSS actually grew their top-line by 10 per cent. The numbers are not reflective of a terrible market, but a somewhat ambitious IPO document.”

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