Caterer Compass hands back 1 bln stg to shareholders

LONDON Wed May 14, 2014 2:14am EDT

LONDON May 14 (Reuters) - Compass, the world's biggest catering firm, said it would return 1 billion pounds ($1.68 billion) to shareholders through a special dividend as it posted a 5.7 percent rise in first-half profit.

The British group, which employs over 500,000 people to feed office workers, soldiers and school children in some 50 countries, said on Wednesday pretax profit for six months to March 31 rose to 608 million pounds, slightly ahead of analyst forecasts of 604 million, according to Reuters data.

First half revenue grew 4.2 percent to 8.7 billion pounds, driven by strong growth in North America, its largest market, and in its Fast Growing & Emerging region, while there were signs of stabilisation in Europe & Japan.

As well as the bumper payout, the group also hiked its interim dividend by 10 percent to 8.8 pence per share.

($1 = 0.5939 British Pounds) (Reporting by Neil Maidment; editing by Kate Holton)