Irish Continental Group needs to steady the ship

Close monitoring of Brexit and fuel price fluctuations required of Irish Ferries owner

Artist’s impression of Irish Ferries' the WB Yeats which is due to operate between Ireland and France.

Artist’s impression of Irish Ferries' the WB Yeats which is due to operate between Ireland and France.

 

“When it rains it pours,” said Davy analyst Stephen Furlong on Monday when noting the latest Irish Continental Group (ICG) debacle. This time it involves its Ulysses vessel, which operates on the Dublin to Holyhead route.

Repairs to one of the ships propellers mean it will remain out of action for at least one more week, if not two. This follows a spate of cancellations as a result of the delayed delivery of the new WB Yeats, which is due to operate between Ireland and France. Problems with the ship’s builder, FSG, caused cancellations, thus discommoding almost 20,000 passengers.

These are badly-timed developments for a company with unique exposure to fuel price fluctuations and the rolling Brexit drama. ICG’s share price fell by 11.5 per cent in one day after the Brexit vote, before settling at a low of €4.161 on July 6th, 2016.

It has since recovered that lost ground, reaching its record high of €6.029 on October 6th last year.

This year has been a different story, with shares trading at the €5.16 mark, more than €165 million has been wiped off its value since last October.

As we trundle towards the UK’s European Union exit talks in October, ICG will be hoping for a soft-Brexit having told shareholders in March that increased fuel costs and weaker sterling eroded earnings.

Brokers estimate the absence of Ulysses will cost the company between €1.5 million and €2 million a week. That follows the estimated €7 million of costs associated with the delayed arrival of the WB Yeats.

However, in the bigger picture, the fleet issues are relatively minor. As Goodbody analyst Patrick O’Donnell flagged, the delayed delivery of WB Yeats has to be viewed in the context of a vessel with a lifespan of about 40 years.

Be that as it may, ICG needs to embark on a major charm offensive to win back support from the public and calm shareholders as it begins to navigate choppy waters.

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