Its global reach has reduced any reliance on one particular market and has helped spread any commercial risks. Halstead generates about 35pc of sales in the UK, 43pc from Europe, 15pc in the Far East, and 7pc from the rest of the world. The company is also helped by sales of flooring also having a certain degree of predictability. Gordon Oliver, finance director, said that about 80pc of business was refurbishment of buildings such as offices, shops and restaurants, with the balance going to new infrastructure projects such as hospitals and schools. Sales are, therefore, not dependent on big building programmes.
Halstead’s 10-year track record is also impressive; it has more than doubled revenue while pre-tax profits tripled.
Yesterday the company was confident as it released a record set of results. It said pre-tax profits for the six-month period to the end of December were up 5.3pc to £21.4m and revenue was 5.7pc higher at £117m, when compared with the same period a year earlier.
The strength of the pound has made exporting difficult, but the company is not making excuses. Geoffrey Halstead, the chairman, quoted Churchill in defiance alongside the results, saying: “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” The Halstead family still retains a combined 40pc stake in the company.
Having weathered the strong sterling currency storm, the company should get help in the second half of the year from falling raw material prices. Halstead said the profit margins improved by 1pc during the first half as raw materials which, being plastics-based are partly linked to oil prices, fell by up to 6pc. That leaves market expectations for full-year pre-tax profits of £44m, giving earnings per share of about 16p, looking perfectly achievable.
Halstead also looks in good condition from a balance sheet perspective. The shares are backed by net assets of £96.6m, or about 47p per share, and there was £46.7m in net cash at the end of December. That cash level was 21pc higher than the same period a year earlier. The amount of cash generated in the six-month period rose to £28.3m, from £20.3m a year earlier. The cash covers the dividend payments more than twice and the interim dividend rose by 4.7pc, to 3.1p, ex-dividend on May 6 and payable June 5. The full-year dividend is forecast to rise by 10pc, to 11p, giving a prospective yield of 3.4pc.
The only issue is that the shares are looking expensive as they are near record highs, and trading on 20 times forecast earnings per share, which is a high rating given the single digit earnings growth. That said, the premium to the wider market looks justified, with Halstead’s track record of profits and return of cash to shareholders.
Questor is always wary about paying a high price for shares, and some investors may prefer to wait, but given the underlying quality they are a buy for the long-term.