Losses rise at Bibby as firm enacts range of cost cutting measures

Liverpool-based global business Bibby Line Group has posted spiralling losses for a 12-month period that ended before the coronavirus crisis even began.

The firm, which traces its history to 1807 and is best known for its shipping activities, posted results this week for the period ended December 31, 2019 – also providing key insights into how it has dealt with Covid.

The results have been described by the Exchange Flags-headquartered firm as “poor”, with losses before tax standing at £29.7m. That’s as well as a restatement of 2018’s losses – putting the figure at £26.5m, up from the previously-stated £15.1m.

Since the period in the report however, the group has enacted a wide variety of cost cutting measures, and when contacted for a comment by BusinessLive, said it enters 2021 “transformed”.

Cost cutting measures included selling Costcutter to Bargain Booze owner Bestway Wholesale, and selling Bibby Distribution to Menzies in a “strategic realignment” it said paved the way for future investment. Both sales were announced in December.

Other actions during 2020 included Bibby Financial Services selling its North American business to Global Merchant Fund Corporation for an undisclosed sum.  That’s as well as administrators being called in at marine survey company Bibby Hydromap in April, when 100 staff were made redundant. That followed a period of “very poor trading” for the firm.

Giving insights into how the firm had dealt with the pandemic, under the heading ‘2020 outlook’ in the firm’s annual report said: “The impact of Covid-19 has led to an unprecedented economic downturn in 2020. Market conditions remain challenging and we are mindful that we are operating in extremely uncertain economic times.

“Our focus in 2020 has been on the welfare of our colleagues, our customers and ensuring the group has sufficient liquidity to see us through the downturn and we have adjusted our plans accordingly.

Sir Michael Bibby, pictured at the Liverpool Echo Business Awards in 2019
(Image: Jason Roberts photography)

“The Government-led economic stimulus and help packages have had a material adverse impact on Bibby Financial Services across Europe and particularly the UK. However, we believe the business is well positioned for the economic recovery when it comes.

“Furthermore, the sale of the distribution business in December 2020 has strengthened the liquidity position of the group, allowing time for the financial services business to recover.”

The firm said once the extent of the virus became apparent, teams “reacted rapidly and professionally” to continue providing its services.

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A chairman’s statement – Sir Michael Bibby’s first since taking on the role – said: “Our values shone through with each colleague doing what they could to help provide new solutions to the issues faced by us and our customers.”

Sir Michael said the main reasons for the firm’s “poor” 2019 results were losses in its financial services division, high pension and other central costs – and “low utilisation” of vessels in its marine services.

His statement added: “The actions taken, including the sale of the North American business and significant cost savings in early 2020 have put us in a much better position to deal with the consequences of the pandemic and with a strong balance sheet and liquidity I am confident that this business will benefit from any recovery in the economy in 2021.”

When contacted for comment by BusinessLive following the release of the results, a spokesman for the group said: “There is no doubt that 2019 was a challenging year for Bibby Line Group.

“However, the actions we have taken during 2020, including completing the planned strategic realignment of our portfolio while successfully trading through the pandemic, have improved the group’s position significantly.

“We enter 2021 transformed, with a strengthened group balance sheet for future investment, a new group managing director and a portfolio of strong businesses that are well positioned for success in our markets and a return to growth.”

Business Live – North West