Irish Continental Group to be ‘free of debt’ in 2016

Ferry and freight services business Irish Continental Group (ICG) is expected to be debt free by the end of 2016.

Irish Continental Group to be ‘free of debt’ in 2016

The company owns the Irish Ferries and Eucon Freight brands.

Yesterday it reported a strong set of figures for the first half of 2015, traditionally its less profitable half.

Group revenue, for the six months to the end of June, was up by 9.5% year-on-year to €143.1m, with pre-tax profits up by 452% from €2.7m a year ago to €14.9m.

The performance also saw a 500% rise in basic earnings per share to 7.8c and and €11m jump in operating profit to €16.4m.

It was strongly helped by lower fuel costs and favourable exchange rates.

Freight volumes were up nearly 12% and the number of cars carried on Irish Ferries vessels rose over 7% on the same period last year.

The group raised its interim dividend, for shareholders, by 5% on last year, to just under 3.64c per share.

ICG’s net debt, as of the end of June, stood at €33.7m; down from €61.3m at the end of last December; and analysts expect it to be further wiped out over the course of the next year or so.

“Clearly, lower fuel prices and the strength of sterling have helped these numbers, but there is also strong underlying volume momentum,” said Davy Stockbrokers’ Stephen Furlong.

“ICG should be in net cash, on our forecasts, by the end of 2016,” he said.

Commenting on the first- half performance, ICG chairman, John B McGuckian said the outlook for the full year remains positive.

“This trading momentum has continued over the key summer period and the group is well-placed to benefit should these market trends continue for the remainder of the year,” he said.

“The group has benefited from the continued improvement in the economies in our sphere of operations and lower global fuel prices.

"Sterling strength was a positive for the group’s sterling-originating revenues, both in terms of average yields and increasing the attractiveness of Ireland as a tourism destination, though this is partially offset by sterling- denominated costs,” he said.

Davy said yesterday that it is now likely to upgrade its existing full-year 2015 earnings earnings, before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation forecasts for ICG from €64.9m to around €70m and has set a 475c share price target.

The price hovered around 451c yesterday.

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