Ricardo, the automotive consultancy, has managed to hold its order book at £97m ($159m) in spite of the downturn in the industry.

Revenue for the year to June 30 eased from £181.9m to £178.8m and pre-tax profits edged ahead from £15.5m to £15.7m. However, its German exhaust business is for sale and was reported under discontinued operations. If included, its losses put pre-tax profits for the year at £12.9m (£14.7m).

Dave Shemmans, chief executive, said the company had reacted quickly to the recession, introducing short-time working and shedding both jobs and sub-contractors. He added: “We have been here before and we were not like a rabbit frozen in the headlights.” He predicted the coming year would be challenging, but probably unexciting.

However, he was more enthusiastic about the following year. “The key drivers remain carbon dioxide and energy security.”

A strong performance from the UK, helped by work for the Ministry of Defence, underpinned the results. UK operating profits rose from £12.3m to £12.7m on revenue ahead £1.1m to £117.1m.

Mr Shemmans said the company did not want to be dependent on any one sector, product or region. The reduction in demand from the makers of passenger cars had been mitigated by demand from commercial vehicle makers and defence. It was moving into areas such as rail and marine, and energy generation.

Basic earnings per share from continuing operations rose from 25.5p to 28.8p, helped by a lower tax charge. An unchanged final dividend of 7.5p lifts the total pay-out from 10.6p to 10.7p.

Marcus Beresford is to retire as chairman after the annual meeting in November. He will be replaced by Michael Harper, the senior independent director.

● FT Comment

The results show a remarkable resilience in the face of the automotive downturn. It expects a tough first half, followed by an improvement in the second six months, partly reflecting the slightly more upbeat mood emerging from the Frankfurt motor show. Analysts expect pre-tax profits to be flat at £12.9m this year, putting the shares on a prospective multiple of 13. Technically, Ricardo is in support services. In reality it is a safe bet in the tricky automotive sector.

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