Mersey Docks & Harbor Not Intimidated by Recession

Tuesday, June 05, 2001
The slowdown in the U.S. economy may be weighing on British industrial production, but ports operator Mersey Docks & Harbor Company expects to avoid the dark clouds of recession.

"We have as yet not experienced any impact from the perceived slowdown in the North American market," Chief Executive Peter Jones reportedly said.

The company expected instead to see year-on-year growth in cross-Atlantic traffic. Mersey Docks has about a 25 percent share of the U.S.-UK market in container traffic.

"In the early months of this year we are continuing to see strong growth," Jones said. The two main areas of development would be RoRo traffic and fresh produce, handled at the company's docks in Sheerness, southeastern England.

Jones said the two other main components of the company's revenue, container traffic and grain, were mature sectors, where spectacular growth was unlikely.

One sector analyst agreed: "I think it (the company) is pretty solid, but I wouldn't call it very exciting growth."

Mersey Docks reported pre-tax profit before exceptional items of 52.3 million pounds ($73.7 million) in the year to December 2000 on turnover of 229.9 million.

Two months ahead of delivering its interim results in mid-August, Jones said the company continued to look out for merger and venture opportunities. Mersey Docks last month announced it would be part of a consortium, which will manage Maputo port in Mozambique from 2002. The consortium includes Sweden's Skanska and Portugal's Tertir.

The company is currently concluding a deal with South Africa's Capespan, taking a 50 percent interest in its export terminals.

"The attraction of the South African investment is that it is in fruit handling, a market we know very well," Jones said.

"It is an element of activity which we believe will always be of critical significance in South Africa."

But scant opportunities have arisen on home soil, with few companies having the potential to deliver shareholder value.

"I don't think there are any large scale consolidation opportunities out there at the moment in the UK market," Jones said, though he added the company continued to look out for a suitable firm.

Mersey Docks bought Heysham Port, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Liverpool, earlier this year to consolidate its presence in the Irish Sea. - (Reuters)

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