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South Australia transport group's profits dip as government handouts dry up


SA-based transport and tourism company Kelsian Group – formerly SeaLink Travel Group – has blamed the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and rising fuel and wage costs for an $11.8 million slide in half-year net profit.

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However, the 33 per cent fall in net profit after tax to $21.2 million for the six months is largely accounted for by a $15.35 million fall in other income for the period, which the company says “reflects significant reduction of COVID related government support in Australia, Singapore and UK”.

The company received about $8.5 million between July 1 and December 31 2020 in JobKeeper payments from the Australian government as well as support from similar programs overseas.

Kelsian received a total of $20.94 million in JobKeeper payments in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 financial years before the scheme’s end in March 2021 to support about 970 jobs in Australia – the highest amount of any SA-headquartered listed company.

Publicly listed South Australian companies received almost $55 million in JobKeeper payments during the COVID-19 pandemic to support more than 2500 jobs.

Only three companies – Santos, Maggie Beer Holdings and Adbri (formerly Adelaide Brighton) – have repaid the money.

Kelsian changed its name from SeaLink Travel Group last October to better reflect the changing nature of its business, increased its revenue in the six months to December 31 to $649 million, up from $570 million the previous year.

Kelsian is an anagram of SeaLink, which it says was a factor in the name choice to reflect the company’s history that began in 1989 with the operation of one ferry to Kangaroo Island.

In January 2020, the company acquired Transit Systems Group for $635 million, Australia’s largest private operator of public bus networks, with established operations in London and Singapore.

Kelsian is best known in South Australia for its operation of the SeaLink Kangaroo Island ferry service.

The $79 million revenue increase in the six months to the end of December was offset by a $73 million increase in expenses, which included a $3.8 million increase in direct wages, an $8.3 million spike in fuel costs and a $5.8 million jump in administration expenses.

It also invested $21.1 million to replace its bus fleet and advance ship builds, including the arrival of a new dining vessel for Sydney Harbour.

Kelsian will pay shareholders a fully franked interim dividend of 7 cents per share on March 31.

In a statement to the ASX yesterday, the company said it continued to be focused on growing its contract portfolio and continuing its acquisition strategy.

“Despite the emerging cost base pressures particularly around fuel and wages, the majority of the business has contracted indexed price adjustment structures that hedge these exposures,” it said.

“The employment market remained extremely tight and a focus was placed on retention of all employees, even in the absence of a government support scheme, so the business is well-positioned to ramp up capacity when demand requires.”

A London SeaLink bus in Trafalgar Square. Picture: Stefano Broli

Group CEO Clint Feuerherdt said the company’s contracted Australian bus operations had continued to provide a solid foundation for business growth.

However, he said COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty had been most challenging to its tourism-related businesses.

“Government support has been significantly scaled back or ended and not yet been replaced by demand from interstate and overseas travel due to ongoing restrictions and fear of travel created by the emergence of the more virulent Omicron variant,” Feuerherdt said.

Kelsian’s international operations had some ups and downs in the six-month period with the expansion of bus contracts in Singapore and the entering of a joint venture to stabilise its London bus services.

“During the period, Kelsian welcomed over 800 new staff to the Group, principally through the transition of the new Sembawang-Yishun bus services contract in Singapore,” Feuerherdt said.

“By the beginning of October 2021, Kelsian had doubled its operations in Singapore, placing it as a close equal second-largest operator in the Singapore public bus market.

“As COVID-19 set in, the challenges of the London public transport market led Kelsian to make some swift decisions to restructure its important presence in London.”

The company’s shares were up 43 cents to $7.27 following yesterday’s announcement to give it a market capitalisation of $1.58 billion.

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