UK prime minister Theresa May has been in Japan this week with 15 business leaders as part of preparations for post-Brexit trade deals with countries outside the EU. While 44 per cent of UK trade is with the bloc, many UK companies sell goods and services elsewhere. The three companies featured here demonstrate the importance of British links with fast-growing economies in China and India, as well as big business markets in South Korea, North America and beyond.
What began as a UK shipowner is now a marine engineering business. While it still operates some tankers, James Fisher also provides specialist technical services for the marine, oil and gas and other industries.
The company, which is based in Barrow in north-west England, has just won a second contract in China to supply submersible vehicles, which can explore the seabed for minerals and are used in the oil and gas industries. The first contract was worth £35m. It is also building an £83m system for the Indian navy that will be used to rescue submarines.
This week, James Fisher reported “solid” interim results, according to chief executive Nick Henry, which narrowly beat expectations.
In the six months to June 30, year-on-year revenue grew from £209.3m to £235.8m and underlying pre-tax profit — stripping out acquisition costs — rose from £17.5m in the same period last year to £18.6m. Pre-tax profit was up only 1 per cent to £17.6m.
With most sales priced in dollars, the fall in the pound since the referendum result helped.
The company also began ship-to-shore oil transfer services in Brazil for the first time.
Oil and gas maintenance work was picking up again after a slow start to the year while the second half should be better for its renewables business, which maintains offshore turbines, said Mr Henry. The interim dividend increased by 10 per cent.
The only cloud was a delay in expected nuclear decommissioning work in the UK. Mr Henry said: “It is all going to plan. We have specialist engineering skills we can sell to the world.”
Analysts at Investec forecast £50.7m pre-tax profit for the full year, up from £45.8m last year — a forward price/earnings ratio of 18.2. They said the shares could rise to £17.25, from the current £15.55.
Shares in Zytronic, a global exporter of touch sensors for electronic displays, this week reached their peak since the company floated in 2000 at 110p, closing on Wednesday at 607.5p.
Zytronic, which develops and manufactures all its products on Tyneside in north-east England, has this year exported more than 90 per cent of its output to 32 countries, from Finland to the US, China and Australia. The EU and Asia Pacific each account for about a third of its exports. But South Korea is its largest single export and growth market.
The company has carved out a specialist niche in markets including bank ATMs, gaming and vending. In the half-year to the end of March, pre-tax profit rose to £2.5m, from £1.8m in the previous first half. Revenue was £11.3m, up from £9.9m. Net cash rose £0.9m to £12.5m and the interim dividend by 10 per cent to 3.8p per share.
When the company presented these results in mid-May, house broker N+1 Singer suggested Zytronic’s 2017 full-year price-to-earnings ratio — then 15.6x — was inexpensive for a growing technology business with a strong balance sheet and dividend yield approaching 4 per cent. Now, at a share price of 592p, it is on a full-year P/E ratio of 20.7x, with dividend yield of 2.8 per cent.
With its global export orientation, Zytronic could benefit if Brexit brings down some barriers beyond the EU. But some materials import costs could rise. Like all exporters, it wants certainty.
Pressure Technologies — a specialist engineering group — on Thursday announced a profit warning because of delayed projects at Greenlane Biogas, a company it bought in 2014 to reduce its exposure to the volatile oil and gas markets.
Greenlane, which has offices in Canada and New Zealand as well as its home city of Sheffield, installs systems that improve the gas produced by organic waste plants and landfill sites so it can be burnt by power stations. It has more than 100 plants in operation.
However, many North American waste operators have delayed investment decisions, reducing sales forecasts. There have also been cost overruns on some European projects.
Pressure Technologies said results would be “materially behind market expectations” for the current financial year. Their shares fell more than 10 per cent.
However, its other divisions, which include pressure testing equipment, gas cylinders and precision components, were performing well, it said.
It makes more than half its sales outside the UK.
Analysts still predict a profit for the full year, after a £2.6m loss in the six months to the end of April. But Cantor Fitzgerald, the company’s broker, downgraded its profit forecast from £1.6m to £0.2m, with £3.7m for 2018. It said long-term biogas prospects were good.