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Company Spotlight: WSP


CONSULTANT WSP took a royal hammering in 2002 after issuing two profit warnings.

Its biggest difficulty has been the slump in commercial work, particularly in London.

Given the number of jobs on the go, this may not seem such a problem but WSP chief executive Chris Coleman does not expect to see many tower cranes in central London in a year's time.

This implies even tougher times ahead, particularly as £151 million of WSP's £264 million 2002 turnover still came from this sector.

WSP is branching out and its transport portfolio is booming.

The firm is also chasing Private Finance Initiative work but this is a lengthy and costly business and WSP is often working for little more than cost as the tendering process drags on.

Escalating insurance premiums have also cost WSP an extra £1 million in each of the last two years.

This hike, the commercial slump and a £4.8 million hit from making 200 UK and Swedish staff redundant left the bottom line profit at a meagre £400,000.

Including these exceptional items, the fall was just £3.1 million to £12.1 million - a figure WSP is confident of equalling in 2003.

The stock hit a low point of 36.5p in December but some investors returned after WSP maintained the dividend at 5p.

The cyclical commercial sector remains WSP's major problem and recovery signs are sparse.