Consultant WSP this week increased its full-year dividend for the first time in three years after its annual results showed a return to financial form.

The dividend rose 6% to 5.3p a share after the company made a £15m pre-tax profit, up 38% compared with 2003.

Founder and chief executive Chris Cole said that after tough times three years ago, the business had strengthened its infrastructure and driven growth organically.

“There has not been a huge shift in the market, it is just that our company is doing better,” said Cole.

WSP’s forward order book stood at £505m, 23% higher than at the same time last year.

Cole said that WSP was now the second biggest quoted consultant after Atkins. In addition, he expected to grow profits and turnover by 10% this year.

He said the company was now winning projects as lead consultant, and was involved in major schemes including the Freedom Tower on the site of Ground Zero in New York, and Renzo Piano’s Shard of Glass skyscraper at London Bridge.

The best performing part of the company was the environment business, which works for clients including Goldman Sachs and Seagate Systems. Its largest division, the property business, also performed well. The worst performer was WSP’s UK roads business, where reduced activity in the second half of last year led to a drop in profit and turnover.

Looking ahead, Cole said that WSP’s biggest challenge was improving margins. “We are definitely getting a higher turnover, but margin growth can only come from us being more effective.”

Cole anticipated almost doubling the number of staff to 10,000 within four years, and identified energy and waste management as areas for expansion.

Shares rose 5% to 262p when the results were announced on Monday.

  • Products group Kingspan boosted pre-tax profits 34% to £60.7 m from £45.1m in 2003. The firm said its success was due to organic growth, better trading across all its regions, and stability in the construction industry. Turnover also rose by 22.5% to £661.7m, up from £541.42m in the year to December 31, 2003. Kingspan reported a strong performance in its raised access floor business. During the year it paid £17.1m for two firms: a Belgian door panel business and an environmental container division.