Sales start to warm up for paving group Marshalls

Paving specialist Marshalls reported improved trading in May and June after the coldest March since 1910 hit sales during the first half of 2013.

The Huddersfield-based landscape products firm said sales fell four per cent to £157m in the six months to June 30 as a result of the cold weather.

The group said it saw an improvement in the second quarter with a positive change in both customer sentiment and order intake.

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It added that its cost reduction programme is delivering positive results.

Sales to the public sector and commercial market, which represent almost two thirds of Marshalls’ sales, fell six per cent, on a continuing basis.

Sales to the domestic market, which represent approximately 32 per cent of group sales, were down three per cent compared with the previous year.

A survey of domestic installers at the end of June showed order books at 10.2 weeks, better than the 8.5 weeks at the end of April.

Sales in the international business rose by 12 per cent in the six months to June 30 and are now five per cent of group sales.

Marshalls said that continued progress is being made in developing the international business and activity levels are encouraging.

The group sold its quarries and associated businesses to Breedon Aggregates England in April.

Marshalls said The Construction Products Association continues to forecast a reduction in UK market volumes in 2013 of 2.1 per cent with the first quarter showing double-digit volume declines but then being relatively flat for the remainder of 2013.

Growth of 1.9 per cent and 3.9 per cent is forecast for 2014 and 2015 respectively.

The group added that consumer confidence remains stable.

Analyst Mark Hughes at Panmure said: “Marshalls’ trading statement outlines an improvement in sales for the domestic business during the second quarter.

“This is particularly positive as the second quarter is an important period for the domestic side of the business.

“The comparisons over the next quarter are relatively soft and therefore we expect the positive momentum to continue. We are upgrading our target price from 110p to 125p.”

Analyst Jon Bell at Shore Capital said: “After a challenging first quarter, the company has experienced a strong pick-up in demand in many parts of the business since mid-April.

“Following the recent sale of the group’s quarries, the company’s balance sheet has been significantly strengthened.

“We assume a flat dividend of 5.25p per share in 2013 and 2014 as management aims to rebuild dividend cover to around two times over the medium term.”