RPT-UPDATE 2-Safestore FY earnings up, bullish on year ahead

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* Annual earnings up 10.9 pct to 45.1 mln pounds

* Total dividend up to 4.65 pence from 4.5 pence

* Average rate per square foot up 11.6 pct

* Closing occupancy down 6.7 pct

By Rhys Jones

LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - British self-storage retailer Safestore SAFE.L said on Tuesday that it was coping with the housing slowdown as it reported growing annual earnings and said it was well positioned to withstand the economic downturn.

The company’s earnings before exceptional items for the year ended October 2008 increased 10.9 percent to 45.1 million pounds ($65.36 million) on sales that were up 11.5 percent at 82.9 million pounds.

The average rate the company charges per square foot rose by 11.6 percent to 24.06 pounds during the year, the group said.

The company said it would increased the total dividend to 4.65 pence from 4.5 pence.

“While Safestore is not immune to the broader economic downturn, the resilience of the company’s performance demonstrates its wide cross section of both domestic and business customers and that Safestore is not wholly reliant on the housing market,” Chief Executive Steve Williams said in a statement.

The consensus forecast from Reuters Estimates was that, on average, analysts expected the company to post earnings of 34 million pounds for the year.

Safestore, which generates much of its revenue from house movers, said it was getting less business from people moving home but said those doing so were storing goods for longer periods of time.

However, closing occupancy was 2.72 million square feet, a fall of 6.7 percent from October 2007, the company said.

Safestore opened nine new self-storage facilities during the period and plans to open five more in 2009.

Shares in Safestore, which have underperformed the FTSE All Share index by over 50 percent in the last three months, closed at 60 pence on Monday, valuing the company at 113 million pounds. ($1=.6900 Pound) (Editing by Karen Foster)