W S Atkins - the UK's largest civil engineering group with some 900 employees in Birmingham - yesterday painted a bright outlook for its markets, despite problems at its rail division.
Chief executive Keith Clarke said most of Atkins' core businesses were growing strongly in response to public sector demand and the company had already secured 87 per cent of forecast full-year business - some four per cent more than last year.
Atkins made a pretax profit of £28.2 million in the six months to the end of September, up from £26 million a year earlier, while turnover rose to £ 516 . 1 million from £463.4 million, an increase of 11 per cent.
The group is raising the interim dividend payment by 12.5 per cent to 4.5 pence a share.
"The results were ahead of our expectations, with most of our core businesses growing strongly in response to public sector demand," Mr Clarke added.
"Prospects for our business remain good and we are confident that the group will continue to grow profitably."
Asked if he was comfortable with analysts' average forecast for full-year pretax profit around £61 million, Mr Clarke replied: "We certainly haven't corrected them."
Atkins designs and plans a wide range of capital projects, including British battle tanks and new towns in China. It is the UK's second- biggest architecture practice, with ongoing work including towers in Jakarta, Bahrain and Dubai.
Atkins' Middle East business doubled in the last year, and during the second half its design engineering and solutions arm, which consults on projects from nuclear power plants to architectural design, should continue to perform strongly, said Mr Clarke.
"It really has started to develop extremely well," he said.
The principal exception among Atkins' businesses was the rail segment where, as predicted, performance was hit by difficult short term market conditions.
However, Mr Clarke insisted the picture was improving.
"Investment into rail in the UK will continue at really quite high levels, virtually regardless of public spending rounds. We are winning our share," he said, adding that the improvement would be reflected in profitability from around the turn of the year.
Richard Deacon, managing director of Atkins H& T (Highways and Transportation) business, said the group's overall performance was reflected in the West Midlands, where in addition to Birmingham it also has another 500 employees at bases in Stafford, Hereford, Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth and Telford.
Atkins is working on a number of major projects in the region, including managing the development of five new regional control centres in England for the Highways Agency. The first, for the West Midlands, opened in April.
It has also landed highways and transportation work for Birmingham City Council to improve safety, accessibility and congestion across the city's road network.
And it is part of the Atkins EDF Energy Consortium, one of three bidders in contention for the 25 year Birmingham City Council Highways PFI contract to maintain all the roads and street lighting in the city. The project could be worth in the region of £2 billion.
The other partner in the consortium, EDF Energy, is an integrated energy provider.