Underlying operating profit increased by 7% in constant currency to $165 million leading to growth in earnings per share of 1% year-on-year to $47.71 cents, which was around 8% higher than the mid-point of prior guidance and 6% ahead of market expectations.
The two operating divisions saw divergent performances with Sharp increasing adjusted profit by 34% to $60.1 million and Ashfield seeing a contraction of 4% to $105 million.
The strong growth in Sharp, which provides packaging for critical medicines, was driven by increased demand and improved mix and capacity utilisation which resulted in higher operating margins of 15.5% compared with 12.9% in 2019.
Within Ashfield, the communications and advisory businesses represent around 72% of operating profits. Underlying revenues dropped 1% and profits declined by 14% impacted by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and cancellation of events.
The commercial and clinical business experienced reduced activity levels in line with expectations with underlying operating profits down 16%.
The company said that while parts of the Ashfield business continued to be impacted by the pandemic, the resilience of the overall business positions it well for future growth.
Given the strong liquidity and improved visibility of trading the board proposed a 1.6% increase in the final dividend to $12.54 cents per share, representing a 1.2% increase for the full year to $17 cents per share.
Numis commented: ‘Net bank debt to EBITDA now stands at just 0.1x with the company well-placed to continue bolt-on M&A.’ The group has access to undrawn debt facilities of $256 million.