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Ferry firm hit by freight fall but expects 'hot' summer

IRISH Continental Group (ICG) yesterday admitted it suffered in the first few months of the year as freight volumes fell and rising energy costs pushed operating costs higher -- but analysts reiterated their forecasts for the more lucrative summer months.

The good news for the company, which operates under the Irish Ferries brand, was that passenger volume increased 1.4pc to 427,600 passengers in the first 19 weeks of the year.

But in another sign that the domestic economy is in trouble, 'roll-on, roll-off' freight volumes slid 3.7pc to 67,200 tonnes while container freight tumbled 5.9pc to 140,900 containers or their equivalent units.

The Central Statistics Office said earlier this week that the trade surplus narrowed in March as exports shrank and imports rose from the previous month. Analysts said Irish Continental was also suffering from competition from rivals on key shipping routes.

The ferry operator is now preparing for the second half of the year, which accounts for the lion's share of profits as people take ferries to England and the Continent.

"We expect summer bookings to gain from the exit of Fastnet Line on Swansea-Cork, while recent sterling strength against the euro is positive," said Goodbody analyst Colm Foley. The analyst, who rates the company as a 'buy', said he still expects the company to boost profit this year.

Pretax losses widened to €3.2m in the first four months from €1.2m in the same period last year. Sales fell 1.4pc to €77m while higher fuel costs pushed operating costs 1.2pc higher to €73.2m.

Irish Independent