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European business holds Mainfreight back

Don Braid, managing director of Mainfreight. Photo / Natalie Slade
Don Braid, managing director of Mainfreight. Photo / Natalie Slade

Mainfreight confirmed earnings growth stalled in its latest year, even as it achieved record sales, as the transport group struggles to bed down its European business in the face of a weak regional economy.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell 0.5 per cent to $137.5 million in the 12 months ended March 31, in line with the company's March guidance. Sales rose about 4 per cent to $1.88 billion. Net profit fell 18 per cent to $65.9 million after one-time charges of about $2 million versus one-time gains of $14.7 million a year earlier.

Mainfreight cemented its foothold in Europe in early 2011 with the acquisition of Netherlands-based Wim Bosman Group for 110 million euros plus earnouts. While the new business was expected to lift earnings, Mainfreight lost key trading accounts in its first 12 months of ownership while having to cope with poor trading conditions in the face of a European recession and bedding in the operations.

"This is our most challenging business unit, as we confront and guide the business through a series of issues - including high-margin earning customer losses, poor economic trading conditions and the transition from private ownership to being a contributing member of the Mainfreight Group," the company said in a statement.

"In all geographical segments, excluding Europe, we have exceeded the revenue and EBITDA levels of the prior year," it said.

Sales revenue in Europe was little changed at 244.7 million euros while EBITDA tumbled 43 per cent to 9.46 million euros.

The company will pay a fully-imputed final dividend of 15 cents a share, making 27 cents for the year, up 3.8 per cent from last year's payment. The shares last traded at $9.70 and have declined 17 per cent this year. The stock has a 'buy' rating and median price target of $12 based on a Reuters survey.

The company didn't give detailed guidance for the current year. It said trading in the first two months reflected a similar pattern to 2012.

"This is of concern and reflects a softening in some of the economies where we are located, and the issues we are currently addressing in our Australian domestic operations," it said. It would be our expectation to have exceeded profit levels of the year prior during this period."

Total revenue from Australia rose 12.4 per cent to A$433 million and EBITDA climbed about 17 per cent to A$30.5 million. But Mainfreight said its Australian domestic operations had suffered margin decline as operational costs rose.

It said "exceptional growth" in the sector had put pressure on "ageing and increasingly inadequate operating facilities" as it coped with increasing volumes of parcel traffic. Mainfreight is to begin building new facilities in Queensland next month, is developing on leased facilities in Sydney and has acquired land in Melbourne.

EBITDA at its Australian Air & Ocean business rose 4.4 per cent on steady revenue.

In its biggest market of New Zealand, its transport, logistics and Air & Ocean businesses all performed "at a satisfactory level over the year," the company said.

Total New Zealand revenue climbed 5.5 per cent to $474 million and EBITDA rose 9.8 per cent to $59.9 million.

Its Asian operation lifted revenue by 3.6 per cent to US$29.9 million and EBITDA jumped 22 per cent to US$2.6 million.

Revenue in the Americas climbed 7.6 per cent to US$357 million and EBITDA rose about 11 per cent to US$16.9 million, which Mainfreight said was satisfactory though "our expectations have yet to fully materialise. Mainfreight USA lifted revenue by 12 per cent and EBITDA by 31 per cent. CaroTrans had a slight increase in revenue and a 3.1 per cent decline in EBITDA.

- BusinessDesk

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