French contract caterer Elior has reported a 21.7% rise in full-year pre-tax profits on the back of better interest rates, lower debt and a cost-cutting drive.
The company said that for the year to 30 September pre-tax profits had come in at €117.7m (£80.9m), up from €96.7m (£66.4m) last time round.
Sales, as reported last month, were up by 5% to €2.5b (£1.7b).
Its contract catering division reported "moderate" growth of 3.2% over the period, with earnings ahead by 15.4% and margins up by 0.6% to 6.5%.
Growth in its healthcare and education operations were key to the improved figures, Elior added.
Elior has been putting a new UK sales team in place to concentrate on developing its administration, education and healthcare markets.
As a result, better figures had started to show through in the fourth quarter of the year, it said.
On the concession catering side, sales grew by 6.7%, with earnings slightly down at €74.4m (£51.3m).
The margin, at 8.4%, was also slightly lower than the 9% reported the previous year.
Its motorways operation suffered from a poor summer, Elior said, but bounced back somewhat in the second half.
Higher passenger numbers at airports in Spain and Mexico had also helped, it added.
Looking forward, Elior said it expected organic sales growth of 4-6%. Factoring in the impact of various acquisitions and disposals, overall growth was predicted to come in at between 8-10%, it said.
Pre-tax profits for the next financial year were expected to be up about 15%, the company added.
Chairman Robert Zolade said: "Good sales performances and continued cost control make us confident of further satisfactory improvement in our earnings for the 2004/2005 financial year, despite the still difficult and uncertain environment."
by Nic Paton
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