Chief Financial Officer
Revenue for the year amounted to €334.5 million (2020: €277.1 million) while operating profit before non-trading items amounted to a loss of €(0.2) million compared with a profit of €0.8 million in 2020. Principal variations on the prior year relate to the recovery in passenger volumes in the second half of the year, increased activity in the Container and Terminal division and the introduction of the new Irish Ferries service on the English Channel.
The tax charge is €0.8 million in 2021 compared with a charge of €1.0 million in 2020. The corporation tax charge of €0.7 million (2020: €1.2 million) comprises Irish and UK corporation tax. Certain activities qualify to be taxed under tonnage tax (which is an EU approved special tax regime for qualifying shipping activities) in Ireland. Reconciliation of the tax charge showing the effect of the tonnage tax regime on the Group’s tax charge is shown at note 8. The deferred tax charge was €0.1 million in 2021 compared to a credit of €0.2 million in 2020.
Earnings per share
Basic EPS was (2.6) cent compared with (10.2) cent in 2020. The primary reason for the increase in Basic EPS is due to the non-trading item of €(11.2) million in the prior year.
Adjusted EPS (before the net interest (income) / cost on defined benefit obligations and non-trading items) was (2.7) cent compared with (4.3) cent in 2020.
Cash flow and investment
EBITDA for the year was €52.3 million (2020: €42.1 million). There was a net inflow of €11.7 million due to positive working capital movements, pension funding movements of €0.6 million and other net cash inflows amounting to €1.4 million, yielding cash generated from operations amounting to €66.0 million (2020: €51.2 million).
Interest paid was €8.4 million (2020: €3.7 million) while taxation paid was €0.8 million (2020: €1.4 million).
Capital expenditure outflows amounted to €55.2 million (2020: €30.1 million) which included €41.7 million of strategic capital expenditure. Strategic capital expenditure included the purchase of a seventh container vessel the CT Daniel for €12.8 million, the purchase of the Isle of Innisfree, a deposit payment for the Isle of Inisheer and rubber-tyred gantry cranes for Dublin Ferryport Terminal.
As in the prior year, no dividends were paid during the year. €19.8 million (2020: €1.7 million) was expended in buying back the Group’s equity.
The above cash flows resulted in a year-end net debt of €142.2 million (2020: €88.5 million) net debt, which comprised gross borrowings of €123.1 million (2020: €200.4 million), lease obligations of €57.6 million (2020: €38.5 million) offset by cash balances of €38.5 million (2020: €150.4 million). The key net debt / EBITDA (pre non-trading items) ratio was 2.6 times (2020: 2.1 times).
Dividend and share buybacks
On 1 July 2020, the Group announced that due to the effects of Covid-19 on current trading and notwithstanding that the Group retained a strong liquidity position, the Directors had considered it prudent not to proceed with the 2019 final dividend previously announced and also did not declare any interim dividend.
In light of the travel restrictions continuing into 2021 and uncertainty around when they may be eased the Directors also consider it prudent not to declare a final dividend in relation to the year ended 31 December 2020.
As travel restrictions continued in and throughout most of 2021, the Board did not declare or pay any interim dividend relating to 2021.
Following the easing of travel restrictions in 2022, and the consequent improvement in passenger revenues together with the continuation of strong performance in all other revenue streams, the Board has considered it appropriate to recommence the payment of dividends. The Board is proposing the payment of a dividend of 9.00 cent per ordinary share on 7 July 2022 to shareholders on the register at the close of business on 10 June 2022. Irish dividend withholding tax will be deducted where appropriate. In November the Group bought back 4.6 million shares which were cancelled. The total consideration paid for these shares was €19.8 million (2020: €1.7 million).
The Group has four, separately funded, company-sponsored defined benefit obligations covering employees in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands. The Group also participates in the UK based industry-wide scheme, the Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund (MNOPF) in which participating employers share joint and several liability. Aggregate pension assets in the four company-sponsored schemes at year end were €145.8 million (2020: €139.6 million), while combined pension liabilities were €140.5 million (2020: €140.8 million). The total net surplus of all defined benefit pension schemes at 31 December 2021 was €5.3 million in comparison to €1.2 million deficit at 31 December 2020.
On 9 December 2020, the Trustee of the Group’s principal defined benefit pension scheme entered into a transaction whereby the liabilities relating to pensions in payment at the transaction date were transferred to a third-party insurer on payment of a premium of €160.6 million. This gave rise to a non-cash settlement loss of €9.3 million being the difference between the present value of the transferred liabilities discounted at the AA corporate bond rate used for IAS 19 valuation purposes at the transaction date and the premium paid. The Trustee, in agreement with the Company, also augmented the pension benefits of certain members resulting in an augmentation cost of €1.1 million being the present value of the future benefit changes. The Group’s subsidiary, Irish Ferries Limited, the sponsoring employer of the scheme, underwrites the scheme’s administration expenses and incurred expenses totalling €0.8 million relating to the above transaction. This was an important step for the Group in both reducing the quantum and volatility of pension liabilities on its balance sheet and safeguarding pensioner benefits into the future.
Financial risk management
The principal objective of the Group’s treasury policy is the minimisation of financial risk at reasonable cost. To minimise risk the Group may use interest rate swaps and forward foreign currency contracts. The Group does not trade in financial instruments for speculative purposes.
Interest rate management
The interest rates on Group borrowings at 31 December 2021, comprising loan notes and finance lease obligations have been fixed at a contracted rate at the date of drawdown with the relevant lender, eliminating exposure to interest rate risk on borrowings. The average effective interest rate at 31 December 2021 was 1.60% (2020: 1.60%). Debt interest cover under our banking covenants to operating cash flows for the year was 12.6 times (2020: 5.1 times).
The Group has determined that the euro is the operating currency in which it reports its results. The Group also has significant sterling and US dollar cash flows. The Group’s principal policy is to minimise currency risk by matching foreign currency assets and liabilities and to match cash flows of like currencies. Exposure to the US dollar relates mainly to fuel costs. The Group has in place fuel surcharge arrangements with its commercial customers which recovers a portion of movements in euro fuel costs above a base level which partially mitigates the exposure to US dollar currency movements.
Commodity price management
Bunker oil costs constitute a separate and significant operational risk, partly as a result of historically significant price fluctuations. In the Container and Terminal Division bunker costs above a base level are offset to a large extent by the application of prearranged price adjustments with our customers. Similar arrangements are in place with freight customers in the Ferries Division. In the passenger sector, changes in bunker costs are included in the ticket price to the extent that market conditions will allow. Bunker consumption was 129,400 tonnes in 2021 (2020: 107,300 tonnes). The increase in consumption was primarily due to increased activity levels in the Container and Terminal Division and the Ferries Division’s new service on the English Channel. The average cost per tonne of heavy fuel oil (HFO) fuel in 2021 was 40% higher than in 2020 while marine gas oil (MGO) was 34% higher than in 2020.
The Group’s credit risk arising on its financial assets is principally attributable to its trade and other receivables. The concentration of credit risk in relation to trade is limited due to the exposure being spread over a large number of counterparties and customers. The Group also has a significant long term receivable relating to a bareboat hire purchase arrangement which is secured by retention of title to the vessel.
It is Group policy to maintain available facilities which allow the Group to conduct its business in an orderly manner. The target level is reviewed from time to time in line with the Group’s future requirements over the medium term and will comprise cash deposits and committed banking facilities. Total available facilities at 31 December 2021 amounted to €118.9 million, comprising cash balances of €38.5 million together with undrawn committed facilities of €80.4 million with average maturity of 2.4 years (2020: 3.1 years). Total drawn facilities of €123.7 million had an average maturity of 3.6 years (2020: 4.6 years) over remaining terms of up to 9 years (2020: 10 years).
Chief Financial Officer
9 March 2022