UK-based international automotive distributor Inchcape PLC has reported pre-tax profit up 55.0% to £168.3 million for the full year to 31 December 2003. Operating profit of £150.6 million was up 34.9% while basic earnings per share (EPS) climbed 64.6% to 164.8p.

Inchcape’s board has proposed a final dividend up 23.8% to 26.0p per share, increasing the total dividend 22.6% to 38.0p a share.

Highlights of the financial year included a “much improved performance in the UK” and operating profits of £22.6 million and operating margins of 9.7% despite very difficult market conditions, the company said in a statement.

Inchcape group chief executive Peter Johnson said: “We have once again produced a very strong set of results deonstrating the benefits of our international spread across six core markets.

“In our overseas businesses we have consistently shown the merits of growing with selected manufacturers in contiguous territories. The new block exemption legislation has now provided us with the opportunity to apply this strategy to our UK retail business. The ability of large dealer groups, such as Inchcape, to invest with selected manufacturers in locations they find attractive will change the retail landscape in the UK over the coming years.”