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SSL hopeful of sell-off remedy.

Byline: Tony McDonough

SSL International, which last month announced the closure of its Bootle factory, yesterday moved a step closer to selling its medicaldivision.

SSL,makers of Durex condoms and Scholl footwear,last year transferred 200 jobs from the plant at Miller's Bridge to Peterlee in Durham.

Now the remaining 40 jobs will go when the factory shuts altogether in December for, the company insisted, economic reasons which did not reflect on the ``excellent'' workforce.

An indigestion treatment called Remegel is made at the Bootle site. This operation is part of the `for sale' medical division which accounts for about a third of its business and also makes surgical gloves, antiseptic products and wound dressings.

SSL, which up until last year was based in Knut sford in Cheshire, wants to sell the division to cut its debts and invest more money in the consumer side of the business.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman said the company has received ``several expressions of interest'' from potential buyers but declined to say whether there had been any firm offers.

However, some analysts believe there are question marks whether the firm could pull such a deal off, or indeed how much it could raise. There have,as yet, been no takers for its Marigold unit which has been on the market for even longer.

DavidGorman, an analyst at stockbrokers WH Ireland, said: ``There's still a lot of uncertainty around this company.'' SSL's new management team is still trying to restore investor confidence after revealing in 2001 it had inflated past results by ``trade loading,'' a practice where it sold large amounts of discounted stock in order to bring forward sales and flatter results in the short term.

The company said yesterday it had sales of pounds 622min the year to March 31.

Michael King, an analyst at WestLB Panmure, said: ``I think people are just relieved things seem to have stabilised.''

SSLadded that consumer sales were up 6pc at pounds 360m, with medical sales up 7pc at pounds 197m. Operating margins were around 13pc of sales and net debt was around pounds 300mat the year end.

A consultation period with the remaining 40 staff at Bootle over the proposed closure is now underway.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 1, 2003
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