Irish Ferries owner Irish Continental Group (ICG) reported better-than-expected full-year earnings on Thursday and said that cars carried on its ships had jumped by almost 400 per cent so far this year from a period of strict Covid-19 lockdown in 2021.
Revenues last year rose by 20.7 per cent to €334.5 million as the number of cars carried increased by 48.5 per cent to 203,600 vehicles and the volume of containers lifted and shipped also rose. This more than offset a 13.6 per cent decline in roll-on, roll-off – or RoRo – freight units carried.
Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) rose by 24.2 per cent to €52.3 million, helped by the group passing on soaring fuel costs to customers. The result was ahead of Goodbody Stockbrokers’s €48.8 million estimate and Davy’s €50 million prediction.
Turning to current trading, ICG, led by chief executive Eamonn Rothwell, said that car volumes have jumped 392 per cent between the start of the year and end of last week. However, more than half of this has come from the company's new Dover-Calais route, which will have a third ship serving it by the middle of the year.
RoRo freight units have risen 145 per cent, again driven by the new UK-France route, while containers shipped and port lifts have declined.
“As in the prior year, there is still some uncertainty over the possible emergence of further waves of Covid infections and any effect they may have on travel patterns,” said ICG.
"Also of concern is the conflict in eastern Europe and the extent to which fuel prices will remain at current historically high levels. While we will pass these increased costs through to customers, the underlying effect of the conflict on economic growth is uncertain."
Still, the company said that its “significant” investment in a flexible modern fleet and in container terminal footprint, combined with a strong balance sheet, leave it in a “very good position to benefit from any continued growth” in all its markets.
Goodbody analyst Stephen Furling said ICG was well placed to largely withstand macro-economic headwinds from Brexit, Covid and Russia's recent invasion of Ukraine, which had pushed oil prices sharply higher, briefly trading above $130 a barrel earlier this week.
“With circa 60 per cent of its business freight orientated, fuel is a pass-through [to customers],” Mr Furlong said, adding that assuming additional fuel costs on the ferry side continued to be passed on, consensus ebitda estimates for ICG for 2020 could move to €90 million.
ICG is proposing to pay €16.5 million of dividends to shareholders in July on the back of last year’s earnings, following a two-year hiatus as it sought to conserve cash during the worst of the pandemic.
“The reinstatement of the dividend and the encouraging volume trends being witnessed provide us with comfort on ICG’s investment case,” said Goodbody analyst Nuala McMahon.
While shares in ICG advanced in early trading, they ended the session down 0.4 per cent at €3.36. Still, they outperformed the wider Irish market, which dropped 1.4 per cent.