In the first quarter of 2017, the Fixed Link has once again recorded two new all-time records: 151,245 trucks transported in March and a 62.4% car market share for Le Shuttle in the 1st quarter.
At the same time, Eurostar renewed its growth with a 2% increase in traffic and the announcement of an outstanding Easter weekend.
Our traffic figures and the 1% growth in the Fixed Link revenues should be viewed in the context of the calendar: in 2017, Easter was in April whereas this peak traffic period fell in March in 2016, and 2016 was also a leap year. This quarter also included only 10 peak traffic days for trucks out of the 83 planned this year. This might seem trivial but such events must be taken into account in order to assess the underlying trends, which are very positive.
The vitality of the British economy is undeniable with growth forecast by the IMF of 2% for this year. This should be viewed against all the alarmist predictions made before and after the 23 June 2016 Referendum in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.
The triggering of Article 50 by the British government on 29 March and the decision on 19 April to call an early General Election are, in our opinion, likely to stabilise the comments on Brexit in the next few months. Everyone agrees that negotiations will be lengthy and calls are being made on all sides to maintain the fluidity of commercial trade between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.
That is why we are absolutely convinced of the ability of the Fixed Link to continue to make progress, as reflected by our specific investments namely the ongoing construction of the new Flexiplus lounges and the entry into commercial service of the first new Truck Shuttle which is going to be celebrated on 28 April in the presence of Xavier Bertrand, Chairman of the Northern France region, as well as some of our major customers.
With regards to investment, there is also ElecLink where construction is progressing in accordance with the planned timetable. The project team has been further strengthened with the appointment of a Chief Financial Officer. With a current team of 22 employees, ElecLink will soon recruit experts to develop the IT management system for the electrical flows in order to be readyfor commercial service in 2020. In terms of the business plan, the average spread of €14.3/MWh between the electricity prices in the United Kingdom and France as announced for 2018 supports our assumptions of profitability.
At the same time, Europorte continues to progress, by focusing on the best contracts and with an outlook that is becoming clearer: SNCF Fret is still recording substantial losses and must eventually need to submit a restructuring and recapitalisation plan that should force it to maintain its commitments to the previous 2004 plan as a minimum and therefore stop weighing on the market. ECR, the subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, is completing its restructuring plan and should also contribute to easing prices. Finally, SNCF Reseau has had its proposals strongly criticised by the French regulator ARAFER, which is in line with the railway operators’ demands.
In this context, the agreement which was signed by all the Europorte unions of a win-win social agreement in respect of the recent French railway reform shows the commitment of all our teams to establish the company as a successful operator for the long-term.
With your Board of Directors, I will have the honour of presenting this positive situation to you at the General Meeting on 27 April. As a reminder, I want to highlight the results of the shareholding analysis: you are 220,000 shareholders, with an average holding that has increased to 7,257 shares. Institutional investors hold 29% of the capital and custodians 59%. The location of the account holders is very stable with 26% in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 36% in the United States and 18% in France. With a dividend of €0.26 per ordinary share, the shareholder return is in line with a number of comparable companies.
The conclusion that we can draw is the expression of a great confidence in the future of your Group.
It is this confidence that I would like you to confirm by supporting the resolutions proposed to the General Meeting on 27 April.
Jacques Gounon Chairman & Chief Executive Officer