Results and Review
It is both pleasing and reassuring to report that for the year ended 30th April 2021, the Company returned to profits with a pre-tax figure of £1.59m (2020 - loss £3.25m) on revenue of £61.54m (2020 - £61.15m). Basic earnings per share amounted to 7.2p, (2020 - loss per share of 15.1p). The balance sheet has strengthened, with total cash increased to £23.56m (2020 - £16.30m).
Exceptionally good progress has been made across the Group, despite the negative and distracting influence of the global pandemic. Furthermore, the outlook is now much brighter than we could have imagined twelve months ago. We have lost neither skills, nor potential market opportunities and are now starting to benefit from the numerous ambitious development projects and investment programmes that we have been diligently progressing over the past few years.
We continued to stay abreast of our obligations to our many international defence business customers, completing sales of new weapon installations, whilst fully supporting and servicing customers around the world, including twelve individual navies. International marketing activity was, by enforced necessity, sadly restrained. The home market with the UK MoD remains, disappointingly subdued.
Pleasingly, a request from the US Navy, that we field our 'state of the art' 30mm MSI-DS naval weapon system for an evaluation trials programme resulted in a highly positive outcome. We have since been awarded a contract for the supply of seven systems, the first of which has now been delivered directly to the US Navy. We are hopeful that these sales may well lead to follow on production orders. In addition, following the award of that contract, we received an order from a US shipbuilder to supply eight similar weapon systems for a US government Foreign Military Sales Programme.
This important break-through in the United States defence market, is a direct result of our persistent and purposeful marketing effort within the US over many years and our relentless, and crucially important, investment in product development programmes for the world markets.
This division started the period in a relatively weak business environment, centred around a Brexit settlement and the overhanging potential loss or reduction in fork-arm requirements from our many EU based customers; then Covid hit! The uncertainties were not helped by the growing deterioration in the availability and supply of raw materials and components and their increasing costs. Not only were our own requirements affected but also those of our customers' other material requirements.
Market conditions only started to improve in early 2021, after many of our existing and potential customers reverting to a 'buy-local' philosophy, rather than continuing to buy 'economic dumped' product from China, where reliability of supply had seriously deteriorated. This positive trend for us, when added to our earlier restructuring of our UK operations, at last brought some positive economic sanity into the international markets we serve through our indigenous fork-arm manufacturing plants in the UK, plus North and South America.
'Petrol Station Superstructures'
Despite a much slowed 'pandemic induced' start to the period in the UK, once HM Government determined that petrol stations in England were deemed an essential operation and could remain open, there was a notable upturn in our business activity. Throughout the lockdowns, many of our UK customers, particularly those operating stations that included a quality convenience store and, in some cases, a food outlet, traded well, even though it is reported that fuel sales dropped by 70% at the height of the restrictions. As travel restrictions were eased, so the need for structural maintenance and new builds gained momentum and there was a pleasing marked restoration in our UK activities.
Unfortunately, there was not a similar freedom of movement across mainland Europe and consequently our operation in Poland - which traditionally services customers from Scandinavia and across Eastern Europe - had a much reduced, activity level throughout the period.
Notwithstanding the challenges, the division, led by the UK operation, achieved a marked improvement in profitability over that reported in the prior year.
This division, which operates primarily across western European through operations based in The Netherlands and Germany, experienced a ten per cent reduction in activity compared to the previous year, owing to local and cross border travel restrictions and vigorously enforced lockdowns across the EU. Consequently, revenue was some 30% lower than anticipated. Across the sectors we serve, petrol, hospitality, airports and automotive, people movement was intensely restricted and as a consequence many of our customers' development programmes were simply put on an 'extended hold'.
By contrast, our UK 'Petrol Sign' business has continued to grow and prosper, responding in line with the more positive approach taken by the UK forecourt market highlighted in my comments on 'Petrol Station Superstructures'.
Our recent positive breakthrough into the western world's largest defence market is truly most encouraging and we will do our utmost to progress the many perceived opportunities that are out there. Our other product developments, aimed at opening up new global markets, are progressing to plan and once international travel arrangements can recommence this will enable the business to exploit a number of perceived and very promising opportunities.
Simultaneously, we are upgrading the capabilities of our existing UK manufacturing facilities and systems, to enhance further our production capabilities to meet anticipated future demand.
With our highly efficient 'local' manufacturing operations in the UK, the United States and Brazil, we are well placed to take advantage of the growing ecological and economic pressures regarding minimising long distance shipping of products around the globe.
'Petrol Station Superstructures'
The UK petrol station market has recovered strongly and very positively from the initial lock-down pressures of the pandemic.
There continues to be a notable, and very positive change, in the structure of petrol station ownership in the UK. The long-established ownership of stations by the large international oil companies is diminishing and passing to that of that a small number of privately owned, well- funded, entrepreneurial groups. Consequently, there is considerable investment taking place to enhance their station operations, creating what is being termed 'mobility hubs,' that will offer, not only a wide variety of fuel options, but also high quality and spacious convenience stores; fast-food outlets; rest areas and internet amenities plus superior car valeting facilities.
With our Group's extensive experience and high reputation in the construction, maintenance and, most recently, the branding of petrol stations, we aim to continue to provide a superior, high quality service to these relatively new, and progressively minded, groups.
Our Poland based business, that enjoys an outstanding reputation for performance amongst the many customers it regularly serves in numerous countries, is well positioned to respond once inter country travel restraints are lifted and there is a restoration of business normality.
This division has still to contend with the present ongoing operational restraints on travel across international borders, necessitated by the pandemic.
In the meantime, we have reorganised and integrated the operations of this division to reflect the wider product and market sectors it serves. Not only have we considerably reduced costs, but it is now better focused on meeting the expectations of a broader customer market than just 'petrol', which had previously been the prime focus when we acquired the 'Petrol Sign BV' business in 2015.
In concluding, I thank all our employees for their support and commitment to the business in what has clearly been a most disruptive and frustrating business year for everyone.
Our thanks also to HM Government and to those Governments, in countries where we have operating businesses, for their 'Covid-19' support in what has been an unprecedented time.
Our commitment to moving the business forward remains at the forefront of our objectives after 15 months of continuous global restrictions. We remain resilient and dedicated, along with a great team of people and are well placed to achieving our aim. Most importantly, we also enjoy further enhanced strong financial resources to support and develop opportunities as they arise.
All matters considered the Board recommends the payment of a reinstated final dividend of 6.5p per share (2020 - 1.75p) making a total for the year of 8.25p (2020 - 3.5p). The final dividend is expected to be paid on the 10th August 2021, to those shareholders on the register at the close of business on 16th July 2021.