Materials producer Rugby Group is closing two UK door and window manufacturing plants after the strength of the pound caused a 20% dive in joinery sales last year.

The company is now “in advanced discussions” to sell its joinery and US distribution divisions, so it can focus on cement and limestone. The news came as the group reported virtually unchanged pre-tax profit of £76.6m before exceptional items for the year to 31 December 1998. Turnover is marginally down from £1.07bn to £1.02bn. It is also merging its Australian cement operations with a rival firm to form the country’s biggest producer.

In the UK, Rugby said demand for cement had fallen in the third quarter, resulting in total sales volumes similar to 1997. But above inflation price rises were achieved in both bulk and bag products.

Joinery sales fell 20% because of the strength of sterling, which led to a surge in imports, particularly doors, and a decline in exports. Door and window manufacturing plants in Doncaster and Gloucester are to be closed later this year.