Liberty International plc Chairman Donald Gordon confirmed that he will be stepping down by June 24 2005 after he unveiled annual results showing 2003 was another year of strong growth in headline property investment income, profits, earnings and dividends per share for the group.
Profit before tax and exceptionals for the year to Dec 31 2003 of £104.2m, up from 86.6m a year earlier. Including exceptionals, pretax profit was £110m, up fro 103.8m.
Property investment income for the year rose to £245.4m from 224.1m. The final dividend was increased to 13.25 pence from 12.5 pence for a total payout of 25 pence, up from 23.75 pence.
With an overall like-for-like 357 mln stg revaluation surplus, property assets now exceed 5 bln stg and net asset value per share has reached 906 pence, up from 862 pence a year earlier.
Gordon said the group has a powerful financial position, with shareholders´ funds of 2.9 bln stg, the debt to assets ratio reduced to 39 pct and a significant development pipeline of around £1.3bn to maintain the strong momentum of regional shopping centre and retail property business.
The company said its potential but as yet uncommitted development programme could amount to as much as 850 mln stg at Capital Shopping Centres. This includes extensions and improvements to existing shopping centres and new projects such as St David´s 2, Cardiff, and the redevelopment of the Westgate Centre, Oxford.
The equivalent figure for the other commercial and retail activities of Capital & Counties in the UK and USA is approximately 150 mln stg.
Gordon said the substantial investor appetite currently in evidence for quality UK property is hardly surprising, when property yields are compared with yields available on alternative asset classes such as bonds or equities, and augurs well for the continued health of the UK property investment market given a stable economic environment.
The US company has had an active year resulting in an impressive increase in property valuations of 11.7 pct. Total investment property assets now exceed 360 mln usd by value, with trading and development properties representing a further 44 mln usd.
The investment properties produce an attractive overall initial yield of 7.5 pct.
Gordon also said Capital Enterprise Centres continues to progress well. The 38,000 sq.ft. scheme at Chelmsford was completed in April 2003 and the level of occupation reached around 70 pct by year end. Progress continues on the developments at Harlow and Croydon and phased refurbishment at Kings Hill, Kent. Conditional contracts have been exchanged for the purchase of a further site at Milton Keynes, Gordon added.
Gordon also passed comment on Stamp Duty Land Tax, the successor in the UK property market to stamp duty, which he said remains at 'an entirely unreasonable level' of 4 pct when compared with securities transactions which attract only a 0.5 pct stamp duty levy.
'Notwithstanding the government´s obvious but largely self-inflicted need to explore every tax raising opportunity (particularly if it can be termed a duty or a levy rather than a tax), we continue to regard stamp duty as an outmoded and completely inappropriate burden for a modern economy and particularly for the important property sector,' Gordon said.
Turning to his plans for retirement, Gordon said he believes it is now an appropriate time to step down from his one remaining public company chairmanship, and he intends to do so no later than his 75th birthday on June 24 2005, the day which also marks Liberty International´s 25th anniversary.
The company is now engaged in the process of determining who should be Gordon´s successor as chairman and it said an announcement will be made in due course during this year to enable a sensible handing-over process to be implemented.
'After a further year of outstanding financial results, with high-quality assets and a powerful capital base, I have considerable confidence in the long-term prospects of the group, in which along with my family I have a substantial sh