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Business: Age of growth ends for Aquarius.

The investment strategy of five former FKI directors hit a setback yesterday as one of the companies they floated - furniture and fittings maker Aquarius - unveiled a dramatic profit slide that ended three and a half years of growth.

Aquarius, founded and owned by Gartland Whalley & Barker, was hit hard by the High Street downturn.

Profits dropped 29 per cent in the half. But Aquarius stressed it was turning the corner and revealed it had bought bathroom cabinet making company Brampton Housewares for pounds 5.85 million plus debt of pounds 1.29 million.

Nevertheless, the fall makes it difficult for GWB, founded by Mr Tony Gartland and other former FKI directors ten years ago, to sell its 53 per cent stake.

Aquarius shares fell p yesterday to 111p, way below their 166p flotation price in December 1996 and a multiple of only 5.5 times forecast earnings.

GWB modified its investment policy earlier this year, saying it would aim to find trade buyers for its companies when they reached operating profits of pounds 10 million.

Analyst Mr Tim Kirkwood of Peel Hunt is forecasting profits of only pounds 6.2 to pounds 6.3 million for the current year. The group's broker Charterhouse Securities is expected to slash its pounds 7.1 million forecast to a similar level.

However, Aquarius chief executive Mr Stephen Luddington said order books were now ahead of last year.

Several of the group's businesses, including bathroom accessory maker Pine Design based in Eccleshall, near Stafford, have managed a far better showing for their products in next year's spring/summer catalogues.

The new acquisition, Brampton, employs 47 and made pounds 615,000 pre-tax profit last year.

Aquarius turnover dropped from pounds 26.2 million to pounds 22.5 million in the half and profits slipped to pounds 2.52 million. The interim dividend was held at 3.4p.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 29, 1999
Words:312
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