Imperial Tobacco celebrated its tenth year as a public company yesterday by reporting an eight per cent rise in full-year profits to #1.17 billion.
The world’s fourth largest tobacco company said it gained market shares across all its operating regions including the UK, where it is best known for Lambert & Butler cigarettes and Golden Virginia rolling tobacco.
Worldwide cigarette volumes rose seven per cent to #186.9 billion in the year to September 30, while revenues when stripping out duty were ahead one per cent at #3.16 billion.
Imperial said UK revenues rose four per cent to #835 million, despite a two per cent fall in volumes to 23.4 billion after the wider market shrank by three per cent over the period.
The company said it did not expect smoking bans in the UK to have a significant long-term effect on the business.
It added: "We believe smokers will continue to choose to smoke regardless of regulations and our view is supported by experiences in other markets."
In addition to growing volumes, Imperial said it had cut manufacturing costs by six per cent over the year.
Among recent measures, Imperial said in July that it would shut its pipe and snuff factory in Liverpool as part of a shake-up of its operations in Europe which will also see a factory axed in Lahr, Germany.
The site in Liverpool, which employs around 140 people, has been producing pipe and snuff tobacco since 1899 and also packages Golden Virginia.
Imperial will transfer its Golden Virginia operations to factories in Nottingham and Mullingar in Ireland.
And chief executive Gareth Davis added that Imperial would continue its "unrelenting focus on cost and efficiency throughout every part of the business".
Analyst Jonathan Fell at Deutsche Bank noted: "Imperial has demonstrated it can get volume and profits growth even when conditions are tough, and that should not change." The Bristol-based company currently employs around 14,500 people at 32 manufacturing sites worldwide.
Since listing on the stock market in 1996, Imperial said the value of #100 invested in the company had grown to almost #800 by this year.
Chairman Derek Bonham said: "The last decade has been a wonderfully exciting time in the long history of Imperial Tobacco."
Imperial said it still saw further consolidation between the world's six major tobacco players.
"We would prefer to do acquisitions, our shareholders are keen, but in the absence of major deals we will continue our share buybacks. We keep looking, but there is not much on the radar at the moment," said Mr Davis.
Imperial has been linked sporadically with a bid for Franco-Spanish group Altadis over the last 22 months, but he made no comment on the maker of Gauloises and Fortuna cigarettes which has just completed a strategic review.
But Mr Davis did say there are six major international tobacco companies and he did not see six remaining over time. Altadis ranks as number six just behind Gallaher Group.
He added Imperial planned to enter soon the United States tobacco market as the litigation risk there had lessened.
The group proposed an 11 per cent rise in its year dividend to 62.0p a share.
Shares closed up 18p at 1857.