Contractor–developer warns of volatility in fortunes because of exposure to uncertain commercial market
Contractor and developer Henry Boot warned this week that profit over the next few years was likely to be volatile.

Managing director Jamie Boot said that this was because its property and land management arms were exposed to the commercial market: "One of the problems of the business is that profit can be lumpy. We are looking at large schemes in the property business."

The company has restructured in the past year, refocusing the business on property and construction, after selling its housebuilding, training and Scottish construction arms.

Boot said: "I would hope this will be a reasonable year with a little growth, but I would not expect it to go as high as £15m." This week it posted an operating profit after interest of about £14m for 2003.

The company's results for 2003 show that turnover more than halved from £221m to £109m after it sold some businesses. Pre-tax profit rose from £17m to nearly £30m, although this figure included a £16m profit on sales of operations.

One of the problems of the property business is that profit can be lumpy

Managing director Jamie Boot

Henry Boot's construction business accounted for about one-third of turnover. Boot said that it was hoping to grow the division at a rate of 10% a year. It has a profit margin of about 1%, which is relatively low for the sector.

Boot said: "We will continue trying to improve the margin. We are not naive enough to think that we are going to generate a massive margin from construction, though."

Chairman John Reis said: "Our market share continued to grow, particularly in the education, prison and health sectors, with work in the latter enhanced by our inclusion in an alliance for the government's NHS Procure 21 initiative."

The number of employees at the firm fell from 1000 to 500 over the past year as a result of the restructuring.

n Support services group Jarvis last week announced the appointment of Andrew Lezala to the main board. Lezala is chief executive of the subsidiary Jarvis Rail. He previously spent 10 years at British Rail.