A YEAR OF PROGRESS AND RECORD GROWTH
Key Financial Highlights
Return on average capital employed
Adjusted basic earnings per share
Free cash flow before strategic capital expenditure
2022 was a year of strong recovery in our business and record growth. As we exited the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have benefited from the investment decisions made over the last two years. The investment in the new Dover – Calais route have allowed us to materially grow our ferries business. Our investment in container ships allowed us to benefit from the strong container ship market during 2022. We also continued the modernisation and expansion programme in our container terminals which has allowed us to offer our customers a more efficient and sustainable service.
The Group made a profit before tax of €62.5 million (2021: loss of €4.1 million). Operations were cash generative at €126.3 million (2021: €57.8 million) and the Group maintained a strong balance sheet.
The performance in the Ferries Division saw a significant increase in EBITDA to €95.7 million (2021: €23.2 million). Partially reflective of returning passenger volumes following removal of travel restrictions, the level of underlying growth is encouraging and justifies the decisions and investment we have made to grow both our ferry and chartering operations.
Performance in the Container and Terminal Division again grew at an impressive rate during the year. EBITDA in this division increased by 8.2% to €31.5 million (2021: €29.1 million). This was achieved despite a reduction in volumes in both Eucon and the Terminals. Revenue grew by 27.2% to €221.5 million (2021: €174.0 million).
The Group ended the year in a strong position with equity attributable to shareholders increasing by €11.1 million to €260.8 million, which was after total returns made to shareholders of €73.4 million. The strong recovery against the previous two financial years saw the resumption of dividend payments, with €24.2 million paid. In addition, the Group bought back 12.0 million shares which were cancelled, for a total consideration of €49.2 million.
Net debt at year end was €171.1 million compared to net debt of €142.2 million in the prior year. This represents a net debt / EBITDA leverage of 1.2 times under banking covenant definitions. The increase in net debt together with cash generated from operations, was used to fund strategic capital expenditure of €57.4 million, dividends paid of €24.2 million and share buybacks of €49.2 million during the year. Year end net debt of €171.1 million comprised gross borrowings of €167.7 million (2021: €123.1 million), lease obligations of €42.4 million (2021: €57.6 million) less gross cash balances of €39.0 million (2021: €38.5 million). Right-of-use lease obligations are excluded for banking covenant purposes.
As Chief Executive, a key responsibility is to drive future profitable and sustainable growth of the Group. I’m happy to report that on a strategic level significant progress was made during 2022 in building on the progress made in 2021 and preparing the Group for future long term growth opportunities.
The Group continued its investment in the Dover – Calais service, which had commenced in June 2021. The Isle of Inisheer was introduced as the third vessel on the route during April 2022. The addition of a third ship onto the route for Irish Ferries has strengthened our position on the route and ensures we are a viable alternative to the other operators on the route.
Operations at our new inland container depot commenced in January 2022. This is an important development for the Group as we look to expand our container operations in Dublin in the knowledge of the scarcity of space to expand in the core Dublin Port area. This allows for increased utilisation at our terminal at Dublin Port facilitating efficient imports and exports.
The Group’s management continually seeks investment opportunities which meet the Group’s stringent return hurdles both in terms of return and risk appetite, a policy which is promoted at all levels within the organisation. These investments are funded through a combination of debt and cash generation from existing activities.
Strategy and the Environment
The Group is conscious that its activities have an environmental impact but is happy to note that reducing that impact aligns with our overall strategy. The Group has continued with the significant investments in installing exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS). A further EGCS unit was installed on one of our container vessels while an EGCS was also installed on the Isle of Inishmore in early 2023. The programme for the electrification of heavy plant at our container terminals continued in 2022, including the commissioning of two additional electric cranes at Dublin Ferryport Terminal. Three further electric cranes were also delivered during 2022 and will be commissioned during 2023. Both of these investments, while reducing harmful emissions, also bring health and safety benefits to our operatives and align with the strategic objective of delivering sustained and profitable growth. Further details of our work in this space during the year are detailed in our Sustainability and ESG Report at pages 36 to 59.
The Group currently collects various data related to its environmental impact of its operations for external reporting purposes. In recognition of the powerful effect that data can have on creating awareness of individual actions, the Group collates and harnesses this data as a tool to promote environmental responsibility within the workforce. While we recognise there is and always will be additional work to do in this space, we consider the ongoing improvement and progress together with the firm foundation established from prior years will enable the further development of our approach to sustainability, ESG and strong reporting in the years ahead.
However, for certain aspects the Group will require the shipping sector as a whole to work together. This particularly relates to global regulation under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation setting common standards and key equipment suppliers adopting the latest technologies. As a small operator in a global market, the Group will only apply proven technologies and we will recover the costs of same, either by increased efficiencies or by passing associated costs through to customers. The International Maritime Organisation and the European Union decarbonisation goals for the Maritime industry are set out and discussed in our Sustainability and ESG Report on pages 36 to 59.
The Group is aware that our stakeholders require us to be environmentally focused and the Group is committed to continuous improvement in both the big and small things that we do. Freight remains the backbone of the local Irish and European economies. Our efforts in greening the maritime industry is a vital part of moving the wider European economy to a sustainable footing in the face of the rising challenge from climate change.
The Group’s performance is dependent on the support of our customers, suppliers and employees. I would like to thank all our customers for their support during the year. We will continue to work with our customers to meet their expectations into the future.
Our suppliers are key to our ability to deliver quality services to our customers. We continually work with our suppliers whether they be port operators, contracted service providers or product suppliers to improve efficiencies and quality. We appreciate the co-operation and flexibility achieved in delivering our 24/7 services.
As in prior years, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our employees for their continued dedication to the operation of our services that are essential to the island of Ireland. It is their knowledge and dedication to customer service that drives the future success of the Group.
I look forward in 2023 to a continuation of the positive trends we saw throughout the Group in 2022 that saw both operational and financial progress across all the divisions in the Group. The work and the investment over the last number of years gives us an exciting platform for long-term sustainable growth in all of our divisions. As always, we will continue to seek out improvement and investment opportunities for our longer-term success.
Chief Executive Officer
8 March 2023