Stobart hints at further multi-modal acquisitions

Expanding freight transport group Stobart published a confident first annual results since listing last year through the merger with Westbury Property Fund.

Andrew Tinkler, chief executive of the Cumbrian-based group, said today: "The last financial period has been one of enormous change for our group.

"We are pleased to announce that results are in line with management expectations. With the transition from property company to operating logistics business now complete, we turn to the next stage in our group's development.

"Following the year end, the group announced the acquisitions of James Irlam & Sons and WA Developments. Integration of both of these companies into the group continues on track. The board is confident that these acquisitions will enable the group to deliver further strong profit growth in the next financial year.

"We are resolute in our aim to become one of the UK's leading providers of fully integrated multimodal transport and logistics services in the UK. We will achieve this through ensuring the continued satisfaction of our customers whilst continuing to develop and enhance value for our shareholders."

Continuing activities for the 14-month period from 31 December 2007 to 29 February 2008 produced revenue of £108.8m.

Earnings after fleet financing costs were £5.4m; profit before tax £3.5m. A final dividend of 5.3p per ordinary share will be paid, giving a total dividend for the year of 8p.

Stobart's Widnes operations handled 70,000 containers last year

The company said given the change from Westbury's property to Stobart's logistics business, it was impossible to make comparisons with previous periods.

In his statement accompanying the results, Ben Whawell, chief financial officer, said the acquisition of Cheshire haulier James Irlam could be followed by similar takeovers: "Further revenue growth will be generated through strategic acquisitions supporting the multimodal offering."

Stobart operates 1,500 trucks, 2,900 trailers as well a rail freight service and 4m sq ft of storage facilities. The group employs more than 4,000 people over 30 sites across the UK and Europe. Over the past year the Eddie Stobart branded fleet achieved average levels of 82% fleet utilisation, meaning just 18% of miles travelled were without a load.

The company said its 3MG rail freight terminal on 175 acres in Widnes, Merseyside, had potential for significant development in rail freight activities. The site, which has full container handling facilities, has the capacity to store 6,000 containers and comprises seven rail sidings with approximately 3,500m of track. The site handled over 70,000 containers last year.

Stobart has room for 2.4m sq ft of additional storage space at 3MG. Planning permission was secured in December 2007 for the first 1.2m sq ft of warehousing.

Across the Mersey at the 44-acre Port of Weston, Runcorn, the group is developing a sea-road-rail integration with the West Coast Mainline as well as the M62, M6 and M56 motorways and the Manchester Ship Canal.

Stobart Group said it aims to develop an inter-modal port facility capable of handling significant cargo volumes, closely linked to its existing haulage network to enable freight currently transported by road to be transferred to more environmentally responsible water and rail options. February's Harbour Revision Order gave the go-ahead to develop the port into a bulk shipping and coastal feeder port. The order also appointed Westlink Holdings, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Stobart Group, as the statutory port authority for the Port of Weston.

The company gave no update on the option to buy Carlisle Airport. Massive expansion plans by another if Tinkler's businesses received planning permission in April. A decision by the Stobart board over whether to rubber-stamp the airport's acquisition will be made at the end of June.

Shares in Stobart were unchanged at 142.5p.

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