News in brief

PROFITS DOWN: Dairy Crest, which was the subject of angry farmers’ protests summer, reported a 16 per cent drop in profits today (November 8), despite strong sales of well-known supermarket brands Cathedral City and Clover.

Its dairies business saw profits slump by more than half to £2.1m in the six months to September 30, driven by lower fresh milk volumes after the closure of dairies in Liverpool and Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, and a reversal of cuts in the amount it pays farmers for milk.

In contrast to an 11 per cent drop in dairies revenues, sales of cheese and spreads were 3% higher after an advertising push resulted in double-digit volume growth for its four frontline brands, including Country Life and Frijj.

Across the company, which supplies milk to supermarket customers including Morrisons and Lidl, adjusted profits were £19.1m.

The company reversed a planned price cut in August and a month later announced it would increase the amount it pays for milk to 29p on contracts for milk and Davidstow cheese from November 1.

PROFITS WARNING: Construction firm Balfour Beatty, which employs more than 230 support staff in the North-East, warned on its profits today as a lack of major projects in the UK weighed on the 103-year-old firm.

The company, which employs 50,000 people worldwide, has worked on high-profile projects including the Olympics Aquatics Centre and Crossrail in London.

But these types of contracts have dried up as the business increasingly moves towards smaller projects, with its regional division now taking up half the order book, compared to a third last year.

Balfour, which has suffered similar problems in its US arm, warned annual profits will be lower than expected at the time of the half-year results, prompting a 16 per cent slide in its share price.

SALES SLIDE: Supermarket Morrisons revealed a further slide in sales today as its bigger rivals stepped up the pressure with money-off coupons and special offers.

The UK's fourth biggest grocery chain reported a 2.1 per cent drop in third quarter like-for-like sales, excluding VAT and fuel, and warned the market was set to remain challenging.

Morrisons has been left trailing as competitors wage war through promotional deals, with its third quarter performance marking a deterioration on the 0.9 per cent sales fall seen in the first half of the financial year.

Morrisons said consumer confidence was fragile and promotional activity still a persistent feature of the market, meaning the trading environment had remained challenging and sales were lower than anticipated.

It added full-year figures were expected to be broadly in line with its expectations.

In another blow, the group also announced the departure of commercial director Richard Hodgson, who was one of the first key hires made by chief executive Dalton Philips after he took over at the group in 2010.

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