Car dealership chain Inchcape has met forecasts with an 11 per cent rise in first-half profit as UK, Australian, Greek and Belgian demand outstripped a slowdown in the Hong Kong and Singapore car markets.
Inchcape, which sells and distributes cars for automakers such as Ferrari, Toyota, Subaru and BMW, said pre-exceptional pretax profit rose to £112 million in the six months to June 30 on revenue up eight per cent to £2.44 billion.
Inchcape, which has 18 retail centres in the Birmingham region, is paying an interim dividend of 5p per share, a jump of 56.3 per cent and said it was positioned for further growth despite challenging market conditions.
It singled out Hong Kong and Singapore where the car market slowed around 4 per cent and people waited for new models before splashing out.
Chief executive Andre Lacroix said conditions in Hong Kong and Singapore were not expected to show any real improvement but scotched suggestions the firm was about to lose the rights to import and distribute Toyotas in the two countries.
"There is no indication that we would lose our distribution rights so I don't know where this information is coming from," he said.
With global fuel prices edging ever higher, Inchcape said Australian drivers were increasingly choosing smaller, more efficient cars.
Profit 'down under' rose 16.8 per cent helped by acquisitions and currency moves, on sales up 7.3 per cent to £335.3 million.
In the UK, its largest market by sales, like-for-like retail sales climbed 3.4 per cent to £663.4 million, while Singapore saw a 2.3 per cent drop in profit and a 2.2 per cent fall in sales.
Mr Lacroix added that the company was looking to counter the slowdown in Asia with a drive into the growing Rus-sian car market next year.
"We have expansion opportunities in the UK and Australia and to a lesser degree Greece and Belgium but it's important to broaden our portfolio of core countries from about six to ten in five years.
"The Russian car market is very, very interesting, it is growing really fast, especially the foreign car segment which is up 55 per cent in the first half and this a very healthy market where we want to invest," he added.
With China in the grip of an unprecedented economic boom, Mr Lacroix said the lure of the new global powerhouse's rising prosperity and its huge population could not be ignored.
"We are looking at China very seriously. We are not ready to make any statement of firm entry at the moment but we are looking at it very seriously."
With the UK and Australian car markets characterised by a tranche of small and medium size players, Inchcape said there was plenty of room to buy up market share.
Shares in Inchcape were down 0.7 per cent to 470p with analysts cheered by performance.