Johnson Matthey said on Tuesday half-year profits to the end of September would be well ahead of the £120m pre-tax earnings for that period last year, despite a worsening macroeconomic environment.

The speciality chemicals company, best known for supplying catalysts to control vehicle emissions, said sales in the three months to the end of June were 33 per cent ahead. Profits before tax and amortisation were 22 per cent up.

Johnson Matthey is the world’s leading marketer of platinum group metals, but it earns commission on sales rather than benefiting or losing directly from market trends, against which it is hedged.

Record prices are increasing commission payments and are likely to continue to do so, with prices forecast to rise further as global production falls due to power shortages faced by the South African mining sector.

Stripping out the impact of price movement on the marketing business’s turnover, which accounted for three-quarters of last year’s total of £7.5bn, first-quarter revenues rose 12 per cent.

Autocatalyst sales in Asia continued to power the environmental technologies division but falling vehicle sales in North America trimmed gains. The company said its €214m acquisition in February of emission control company Argillon was benefiting from increased demand for catalysts to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

The high cost of oil is encouraging efficiencies in the chemical industry and pushed up demand for catalysts for hydrogen and methanol. The company said its other operations were also performing well.

The Argillon acquisition has increased debt and interest payments. In June, Johnson Matthey agreed a £100m loan facility from the European Investment Bank to support research and development.

In early London trading the share price rose 2.3 per cent to £17.06.

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