Ferry firms heartened by 2003 results and debt rescheduling

Listed ferry operators achieved a measure of financial recovery in 2003, after several years of difficulties arising mainly from an expansion drive in the 1998-1999 period. The sector’s five listed companies reported a combined operating revenue of more than 800 million euros in 2003, about 100 million more than in 2002, according to data in the study «Greek Coastal Shipping 2003-2004: A Restructured Course,» by XRTC, the shipping consultancy arm of Credit Lyonnais. Their average profit margin before tax, interest and amortization (EBITDA) rose about 2 percent. The data reveal that despite the sector being in what is still regarded as a transitional period, all financial indicators improved in 2003. Strintzis Lines, which reported EBITDA margin of 24.5 percent, the lowest among all five, had the best liabilities to current assets ratio. This translates into a relatively good level of profitability and a satisfactory picture of debt liabilities in relation to current assets. By contrast, Lesvos Maritime Company (NEL) has huge debt liabilities in relation to current assets, although it reported the highest rise in profitability, 28.1 percent. The picture is similar for Minoan Lines, which also has a high liabilities to current assets ratio (2.66) and a relatively good rise in profitability (26.9 percent). Attica Enterprises (EPATT) accounted for 309.6 million euros of the combined 800 million turnover of all five. ANEK improved both its profitability from 24.3 percent in 2002 to 25.1 percent in 2003 and its debt to current assets ratio, from 2.04 in 2002 to 1.90 in 2003. Minoan Lines reported a significant rise in turnover but without a commensurate increase in the profit margin. Additionally, a small rise in borrowing caused a deterioration in its debt to current assets, from 1.89 in 2002 to 2.66 in 2003. All five companies recorded an increase in the volume of business in domestic and foreign routes alike, on the basis of data for the first nine months. On domestic routes, the five companies carried a combined 6 million passengers; on the Adriatic routes (where NEL does not operate) the four firms have recorded a 31 percent rise in the volume of business in the last two years, 2002 and 2003. This smaller market segment nevertheless yielded satisfactory profitability, given that fares are fully deregulated. EPATT’s SuperFast Ferries also operates successfully in Baltic and North Sea routes. Finally, the five listed ferry operators have achieved a sharp rise in the number of vehicles carried since 2001. The restructuring of the huge debt load of the five firms has been a long and painful process which seems to be nearing completion. During this process, they were burdened with compound interest and other expenses, which worsened their position. Giorgos Xiradakis, XRTC’s managing director, considers that ANEK and NEL have managed to significantly lighten their debt repayments in the next five years. Minoan Lines is still in negotiations with banks which are expected to be completed soon. The restructuring boosts banks’ role as regulators in the industry, as they will have to approve any further business plans for expansion.