Wednesday 18 October 2017

Cash flow up 130pc at semi-state body Coillte

‘The UK is the second largest importer of timber in the world. They cannot change that overnight,’ Coillte boss Fergal Leamy argues regarding the issue of Brexit
‘The UK is the second largest importer of timber in the world. They cannot change that overnight,’ Coillte boss Fergal Leamy argues regarding the issue of Brexit
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The amount of cash generated by Coillte surged 130pc last year to just over €15m, the semi-state reported yesterday.

The commercial semi-state is aiming for an operating cash flow of just over €60m by 2019, and had set a target of €12m for last year.

The forestry agency also reported record earnings of €98.3m for 2016, up 10pc on the previous year, while operating profit reached almost €65m.

Its dividend to the State increased by 24pc to €6.2m.

Coillte boss Fergal Leamy described the cash flow figure as the "most encouraging piece" of the annual results, published yesterday.

But despite being ahead of target so far, he sounded a cautious note on whether the company could meet that 2019 target.

"It is still quite a strong challenge," Mr Leamy said.

"I'd be very confident of the number being above €45m, and I'd be confident that we have all the plans in place to hit €60m. We're going to try and drive this thing as hard as possible."

He added: "We're two and a bit years into a four/five-year plan. We've made good progress so far but I wouldn't underestimate the challenge that we have to get up to that €60m."

Coillte is in the midst of a strategy to cut costs, which has seen the number of staff at its headquarters fall to 17 from 90. Mr Leamy said that has led to €4m in annual savings, and it has also saved up to €4m from a cut in the number of external help, including from lawyers.

He said the total staff numbers at the forestry body will be between 750 and 800.

On Brexit, Mr Leamy said that in core forestry the UK will always be the agency's biggest customer.

"The UK is the second-largest importer of timber in the world. They cannot change that overnight," Mr Leamy said.

But he added that even if there was a slowdown in the UK, Coillte would still be able to maintain its overall volume in part because of the recovery in the market here, and the ability to diversify into mainland Europe.

"We have model scenarios, what happens if the market's flat, or what happens if it declines. I think if there is a fall back in demand, it will be offset by two things," he said.

"We're seeing a significant rebound in the Irish market for materials, and... we would look to increase the European side. We are comfortable that we can sustain the volume."

Coillte refinanced its debt pile last year and agreed a €220m syndicated loan facility with five banks that it expects will save it about €35m over 10 years.

Just before the end of last year Coillte also secured a near €100m loan from the European Investment Bank.

Irish Independent

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