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Good Day at the Office for Wales Plc

Sep 4, 2007

By Sion Barry

It was a good day at the office for Wales Plc yesterday. Motor insurance groupAdmiral Group post record half year pre-tax profits and confirmed its next move into the European mainland market would be Italy. Insurance broker ProtectaGroup, which has its headquarters in Williamstown, Rhondda, has made its 11th and biggest acquisition to date in a cash deal for the general insurance arm of Cardiff- based Julian Hodge Bank.

Newport-headquartered Monmouthshire Building Society posted its best ever pre-tax profits.

And Swansea-based semi-conductor recycling venture Pure Wafer bucked the global malaise in its sector by posting healthy rises in both pre-tax profits and revenue.

Admiral, which employs more than 2,000 in Cardiff and Swansea and is Wales's biggest stock market listed company on market capitalisation, posted a 26% hike in pre-tax profits to pounds 86.3m.

In delivery its half-year results to the end of June 30, 2007, its American chief executive Henry Engelhardt said growth had been achieved against the backdrop of a challenging UK car insurance market.

He added, "We are very pleased to again announce record results for the first half of 2007.

"The UK car insurance market continues to prove challenging, and we are delighted to have once again increased both underwriting and ancillary profits whilst substantially growing the number of vehicles insured.

"As a result of continuing growth in the market for car insurance price comparison, enjoyed growth in volumes and revenue in the first half of 2007.

"However, previously we have said that there will be more competition in this sector. Some of this competition went live earlier this year and more competition is on its way."

Fast-expanding insurance broker ProtectaGroup has acquired Cardiff-based Hodge Insurance Brokers - a subsidiary of Julian Hodge Bank.

ProtectaGroup, which was acquired in an management buyout led by its chief executive Paul Ragan in 2004, is also currently in discussions with a view to acquiring four other insurance brokers, of which two are in Wales and the others in London.

Mr Ragan, 39, confirmed that the sales turnover of the acquisition targets range from pounds 3m to pounds 60m.

He said of the Hodge deal, "This is an exciting move that will catapult us forward in terms of us achieving our ambitious growth plans and recognition as a new consolidator in the UK general insurance sector.

"This is our 11th successful acquisition - and interestingly eleven times bigger than anything we have completed in the past."

The group wanted to achieve a projected sales turnover of pounds 100m by the end of next year with the ultimate objective of carrying out a successful flotation in 2011, subject to favourable market conditions, Mr Ragan said.

Monmouthshire Building Society reported record annual pre-tax profit of pounds 3.74m.

For the 12 months to April, 2007, the Newport-based mutual saw profits up 8% on the previous year's figure (pounds 3.47m).

Now its 138th year, the society also reported a 9% increase in asset growth to a record pounds 527m and a 15th successive year's reduction in its management cost ratios.

The society's gross lending grew by 15% to pounds 103m during the year while a net inflow of funds from members of pounds 24m led to investors' and depositors' balances increased to pounds 495m.

Chairman John Farrow said, "The figures represent another year of significant achievement for the Monmouthshire Building Society, reinforcing its position as a major force in the financial services industry in Wales."

And despite a tough global marketplace Swansea-based semiconductor recycling venture Pure Wafer posted a 54% rise in revenues to pounds 22.35m for the year to June 30, 2007.

Earlier this year, the Alternative Investment Market listed company completed the acquisition of the trade and assets of Exsil, a wafer reclaim facility based in Arizona, in the United States, from Rockwood Specialties for pounds 5.76m.

That acquisition has helped grow revenues in the key North American market.

Pure Wafer reported pre-tax profit of pounds 2.7m, up 38% on 2006.

(c) 2007 Western Mail. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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