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PureCircle shares hit record high as revenues rise

PureCircle shares hit a fresh record high after the maker of low-calorie sweeteners based on the stevia plant, a relative of the sunflower, revealed it had maintained its grip on profit, helped by new business.

The group said that its revenues in the July-to-December period, the first half of its financial year, had soared 31% to $34.7m, lifted by increasing volumes across its range of sweeteners and in regions from Asia to the US.

"We are generating revenues from a wide range of natural sweetener and flavour products and from a wide range of customers," said Magomet Malsagov, the PureCircle chief executive.

The rising revenues were set to bring the group "positive" operating profits and earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) for the half, compared with losses a year before, but building on an improved performance in the first six months of 2013.

'Important milestone'

And Mr Malsagov forecast strong prospects too, highlighting "accelerating roll-outs of food and beverage products using PureCircle's high purity stevia solutions, particularly in the important carbonated soft drink category.

"The company is confident of continued sales growth and with it improvements in profitability," he said.

The impact on PureCircle shares, which are listed in London, was to send them to 638p in morning deals, a record high.

It topped the 630p reached on December 30 when the group revealed that the US Food and Drug Administration had issued a "no objection" letter to a zero-calorie stevia-based sweetener being developed with Coca-Cola.

This letter was "an important milestone for us", Mr Malsagov said on Monday.

Market reaction

In London, broker Numis said that the trading upgrade was "excellent in all regards".

Numis analyst Charles Pick also rated as a "plus" for PureCircle a report last week from the Overseas Development Institute which revealed rising obesity in developing countries, where 904m people are seen as overweight or obese compared with 250m in 1980.

"This report will encourage government actions" against obesity, Mr Pick said.

Nonetheless, Numis cut to "reduce" from "add" its rating on PureCircle shares, given the extent of their rally over the last two months, during which they have soared more than 50%.

"The shares were 362p at the start of November and one has to question if the current rating for what is a still embryonic industry is warranted," Mr Pick said, putting a target price on the shares of 515p.

PureCircle has not reported a full-year, after-tax profit since the year to the end of June 2010.

The shares stood at 631.5p at 10:00 UK time, up 2.5% on the day.

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