The PLC said results for the financial year that ended last month were likely to be “at the top end of current market expectations”.
St Ives’s share price jumped by 9.5p, or 17.43%, to 64p on the news.
Analysts are predicting profits of between £22.5m-£24m. Last year the group filed an adjusted pre-tax profit of £30.4m.
“This is a step forward and the market has reacted well,” said Malcolm Morgan, analyst at Peel Hunt. “Ten out of ten to the team for having worked hard to try and restore some sort of momentum in difficult times.”
St Ives said that trading in its Strategic Marketing division had continued to improve, with like-for-like sales up by around 12% and “significantly improved” operating margins.
There was also better news at its print operations. In the under-pressure Marketing Activation business, which includes SP Group and Service Graphics, sales are tracking circa 2% ahead of the prior year. “The cost reduction measures initiated within the segment have been implemented as planned and on schedule, and the resultant benefits are now helping to mitigate margin pressure,” St Ives said in a statement.
At book printing operation Clays, sales were up by around 8% in the second half. The firm announced plans to cut approximately 17% of the workforce earlier this year, and said cost reductions and restructuring at the Bungay business “are expected to ease margin pressure going forward”.
Clays also printed for HarperCollins for most of the period, as its contract expired on 30 June.
There was no specific update on the strategic review that could involve St Ives selling its print operations. Following the recent sales of factory sites in Cornwall and Peterborough, St Ives said it continued to look for ways to strengthen its balance sheet.
“If there is a buyer out there they are going to more encouraged seeing a better second-half performance,” Morgan said.
An industry source said that St Ives could have opted to put the Marketing Activation sale on ice until the outcome of the contract tender at major client Sainsbury’s is known. St Ives has not commented on the review.
Earlier this month Communisis confirmed it had won the HSBC work previously handled by the St Ives print management wing.
The group, which had sales of £367.5m last year, has also come to an agreement with its pension trustees to increase its contribution to the scheme from £2.4m to £3m a year, in a deal that is backdated to April 2016. As a result, St Ives will contribute £3.8m in its next financial year, and £3m thereafter. The scheme had a deficit of £26.4m at its last year-end, and this had reduced to £18.5m in the group’s 2016/17 interim results.
“Clarity on the pension fund gives certainty going forward and the stock market likes certainty,” Morgan added.
The group’s share price reached a new all-time low of 37.3p in June. The 52-week high is 152p.