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Cash-rich Enterprise ready to go shopping

FINANCE Maintenance firm prepares to add to last year's acquisitions by issuing AIM shares

ENTERPRISE, the AIM-listed utility and property maintenance firm, has £50 million to spend and could issue more shares as it seeks further acquisitions.

The firm has made eight acquisitions, including a £3.5 million takeover of Thames Water utility arm Brophy, which turns over £40 million a year, but stopped last summer to integrate its purchases.

Executive chairman Owen McLaughlin said: 'We are just about to start looking again. The next acquisitions will be of the same magnitude as Brophy, or bigger.'

Finance director Graham McInnes said: 'We have got net cash of £10 million plus a £50 million overdraft and that is without going to the market to issue shares, which we would consider.'

Enterprise was hoping to move up from AIM to the support services sector of the main exchange this spring but this is likely to be put back.

Mr McInnes added: 'In a perfect world, we would move up to the main exchange at the interim results in six months, when we would also like to make a takeover. But we're not just going to manufacture a deal.'

Utilities margins are being squeezed and Enterprise is working in telecoms again - for cable TV firm Telewest - nine years after quitting the sector.

Mr McLaughlin said: 'There is a continuous squeeze on margins. The day you win a tender is the day you want to reduce costs.'

New work lifted turnover by £94.5 million to £272.5 million in 2002 with just £16.6 million coming from acquisitions.

Pre-tax profits excluding exceptional items rose £4.9 million to £12.9 million. Operating profits rose to £13.2 million from £8.9 million, giving Enterprise a margin of 5.1 per cent.