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LONDON-Canary Wharf Group is to return £375 million ($584 million) to shareholders after a successful year of lettings and development.

The company said its strong performance last year needs to be seen against a slowdown in lettings and falls in rent elsewhere in London. The statement added: “We remain cautiously optimistic about the near term but highly optimistic about the longer term future of Canary Wharf and this area.”

Canary Wharf has, since June 2001, returned £501 million ($780 million) to shareholders through share buy-backs. The rapid pace of development has enabled it to speed the programme up with a £375 million ($584 million) special dividend payable in December.

Operating profit in the full year rose to £299.7 million ($466 million) from £91.7 million ($142.7 million), while pretax profit excluding exceptionals shrank to £22.6 million ($35 million) from £42.5 million ($661 million). This was due to the increase from £48.8 million ($759 million) to £107.6 million ($167.4 million) in net interest payable as a result of securitisations completed in June 2001 and February 2002.

Canary Wharf’s investment portfolio totals 6 million sq ft and is 98.7% let. A further 5.5m sq ft is under construction, of which 4.9m sq ft is pre-let. The company said it now has the potential to increase development to around 20m sq ft.

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