Saturday 20 January 2018

NTR can bounce back, assures Tom Roche

Chief is confident despite posting one of largest losses in history

John Mulligan

NTR chairman Tom Roche has told shareholders in the utilities group that he's "still a believer" in the firm even after it posted one of the largest losses in Irish corporate history outside the banking sector following a massive writedown of its US solar power business.

At NTR's annual general meeting in Dublin yesterday, Mr Roche, who along with his family owns around 40pc of the company, acknowledged that the €280m loss attributable to NTR shareholders in the last financial year was a "significant disappointment".

However, he insisted there was scope for generating shareholder value despite the setbacks suffered by the group, which owns the Greenstar recycling business in Ireland and the US, as well as stakes in US-based Wind Capital and ethanol maker Green Plains Renewable Energy.

The massive loss generated by the group in the 12 months to the end of March -- the total for the group was €381m -- came as NTR wrote off its entire €190m investment in US solar firm Stirling Energy and €62.2m of its Greenstar business. Revenue rose 35pc to €329m, however.

"We've suffered reputational damage as a result of the performance over the past two years, but we still have a very strong brand," Mr Roche told investors.

"Since our foundation in 1978, NTR has been through several business cycles. We're an entrepreneurial company and as that we've experienced some significant success, and also significant disappointments, particularly in the last couple of years."

NTR's accumulated losses over the past three financial years amount to €712m. At one stage it had been sitting on a cash pile of €1.3bn following the sale of its Airtricity subsidiary and the West Link toll bridge in Dublin.

Investment group One51 -- which ousted its chief executive Philip Lynch in July after the company racked up a €104m loss last year -- owns nearly 24pc of NTR. Almost all of that loss at One51 was a result of writing down the value of its stake in NTR.


Speaking at yesterday's AGM, NTR chief executive Michael McNicholas -- the former head of ESB International who assumed the role earlier this year -- acknowledged it would take "some time" for the group to work through the challenges it is facing.

"I think we're trying to give a realistic message," he said, speaking to reporters afterwards. "The economic cycle is very difficult but it definitely overshadows all we've done."

He pointed out that NTR has cut costs and made "huge progress" in the past 12 months.

"Over the medium to long term, I think we're going to see NTR coming out with stronger statements about where we're at," he added. "Ireland needs companies like NTR more than ever today."

Irish Independent

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