May 8, 2019 / 6:47 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-UK's Travis Perkins sees strong first-quarter sales growth

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LONDON, May 8 (Reuters) - Travis Perkins, Britain’s largest distributor of building materials, reported a 7.3 percent increase in first-quarter underlying sales which it said reflected improved customer service and a weak comparative number last year.

The group, which trades from over 20 brands including Travis Perkins, Wickes and Toolstation, set out a plan in December to deliver better service to its mainly building trade customers and to simplify its overall business.

It said on Wednesday that plan was making progress. First quarter like-for-like sales were up 10.6 percent in its main merchants division, were up 10.5 percent in its Wickes home improvement business and up 19.1 percent in Toolstation.

The group said like-for-like sales in its plumbing and heating business fell 4.0 percent, reflecting Britain’s mild winter. It said work to operationally separate plumbing and heating was progressing to plan and was expected to be completed in the second quarter.

Given uncertain market conditions Travis Perkins said its overall expectations for 2019 were unchanged. In February the group forecast adjusted operating profit in 2019 to be similar to the 375 million pounds ($490 million) made in 2018.

Travis Perkins said in March its veteran chief executive, John Carter, will step down in August and be succeeded by Nick Roberts, the current boss of engineering firm Atkins.

Shares in the group, up 31 percent so far this year, closed Tuesday at 1,404 pence, valuing it at 3.6 billion pounds. ($1 = 0.7652 pounds) (Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton)

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