Strong sales in the UK and Continental Europe helped  automotive services group Inchcape report a 25% rise in interim pre-tax profits, and offset volume falls in Hong Kong, the Financial Times (FT) said.

The FT said that the group, which distributes and retails brands such as Ferrari, Jaguar and Land Rover, managed to push profits for the six months to June 30 up from £43.6 million to £54.3 million.

Turnover in the period increased to £1.82 billion compared with £1.76 billion last year, the FT added.

Inchcape's UK operating profits rose from £9.1 million to £9.8 million, the FT said, helped by the acquisition of the Bates Motors Group last year.

The contribution from Bates also offset what the group described as "disappointing" results from the leasing business, the FT added.

The FT said that Inchcape, which is trying to switch to high margin support services, reported a squeeze on margins in business services, as insurance costs increased and it invested in new projects.

The newspaper said that, as well as strong sales in the UK, the star performer in the group was Greece/Belgium, where operating profits more than doubled from £5.8 million to £12.8 million, as the new Toyota Corolla was received well in both markets.

The FT said Inchcape sales in Hong Kong sales fell as the taxi replacement cycle came to its end which pushed profits down from £26.5 million to £17.5 million.

Last year, the newspaper added, Inchcape along with other retailers benefited from the conversion of the city's taxi fleet from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas.

Inchcape, which has undergone significant restructuring in the last few years to reduce its reliance on retail sales, said it would continue to dispose of non-core activities and had identified £25 million of disposals, the Financial Times said.