Charles Hurst "upbeat" on car market as group profits soar

Ferrari and Bentley dealership Charles Hurst in Belfast has reported a big uplift in profits for 2016
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland's largest motor retailer the Charles Hurst Group posted a pre-tax profit of £7.7 million for 2016 which it says reflects "the underlying recovery" in both the new and used car markets in the region.

And while cautioning that 2017 could see a general slowdown from the record levels of new car sales in the last 12 month, the company says it has made a good start to the current financial year, is "outperforming the new car market", and expects to be ahead of budget when it closes its books in December.

Figures filed at Companies House reveal that turnover at Charles Hurst fell by £50 million last year from £505.8m to £456m, which reflected the transfer of its Taggarts brand in Scotland back into the control of parent firm Lookers plc.

Gross margin slipped back slight from 11.3 per cent to 10.9 per cent, due to the higher selling value of the vehicles sold and increased pricing competition in the used car markets.

Overheads and direct costs also decreased from £48.9m to £40.6m, due again to the Taggarts transfer.

Charles Hurst Group operates from 11 separate locations representing 16 car and two motor cycle franchises, offering customers across Ireland the most comprehensive choice of new and used vehicles, parts and servicing.

It also operates a new dedicated van centre, four tyre outlets, a fast-fit operation, accident repair centre and, with the addition since 2012 of Fleet Financial, a contract hire operation.

Founded in 1911, its headquarters are located in Belfast on a 20-acre site, making it the largest automotive retail park in Europe - where customers can buy anything from a new Ferrari, Aston Martin or Bentley, through to a second-hand Micra for less than £3,000.

Its detailed financial report filed with Companies House showed that Charles Hurst's retained profit for the year was £6,215,000 - an increase on the previous year's bottom line of £5,421,000.

During 2016 the average number of employees at the company was 870, made up of 377 in administration, 313 in sales and distribution and 180 mechanics.

This was down significantly on the previous year's payroll of 1,014, and in turn that led to Charles Hurst being able to slash its wages bill from £30.2m to £25.9m.

The highest-paid director took a slight cut in his overall package to £278,000 (2015: £287,000).

An interim dividend of £2,860,000 was paid to shareholders during the year (down from £2,903,000 in 2015).

In March this year, Charles Hurst's parent firm Lookers plc reported an eighth consecutive year of turnover and profit growth, with revenues jumping 17 per cent to £4.3 billion in 2016 and pre-tax profits soaring by 46 per cent to 91.8 million.

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