Principally as a result of the 13.2 per cent increase in the number of deaths, this has been a very strong period for the Group, with underlying operating profits increasing 30.9 per cent to £59.7 million. Each division has performed well, with good average incomes and cost control being maintained.
Underlying earnings per share increased 58.5 per cent to 74.0 pence per share (2014: 46.7 pence per share), reflecting the strong operating performance and the effect of the reduction in the number of shares in issue following the Group's Secured Note issue and return of value last year, further details of which are available in the 2014 Annual Report.
Basic earnings per share were 71.0 pence per share (2014: 45.2 pence per share), an increase of 57.1 per cent.
The Group paid a final dividend of 13.01 pence per Ordinary Share on 26 June 2015.
The Group proposes to pay an interim dividend of 7.14 pence per Ordinary Share (2014: 6.49 pence) on 30 October 2015 to shareholders on the register at 25 September 2015. This is a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.
The first half of the year has been very busy for all our staff. Despite this, they have sought to maintain our high standards across the entire business. This is demonstrated in our funeral services division, with our customer surveys continuing to show excellent feedback from our clients.
As a result of the high number of deaths in the first half of 2015, the Board anticipates that results for the full year will be ahead of its expectations. Its expectations for 2016 and beyond remain positive but unchanged as there is a strong possibility that the number of deaths in 2016 may be significantly lower following the very high number of deaths in 2015.