UK sugar and starch group Tate & Lyle returned to profit today [Friday] and said it had slashed its debt by more than a third as it sold underperforming businesses and enjoyed a rebound in starch prices.

Tate & Lyle reported profit before tax, but after exceptional items and goodwill, of £159m (US$232m) for the year to 31 March, slightly above analysts' forecast range.

That compared to a loss of £190m in the previous year.

Further cheer for investors came with the news that the company, whose products range from branded sugars and syrups to industrial starches used in paper and textiles, had cut debt by £324m to £639m by end-March as it quit the US sugar market.

"The divestment of our underperforming U.S. sugar businesses and other low-return activities together with a reduced level of net debt provides the group with a stronger base from which to advance," Tate & Lyle said in the results statement.