Strong growth in its logistics division helped offset declining revenues from transport at Norbert Dentressangle last year, leaving the firm's turnover almost 4% up with a fractional increase in profitability.

Following a particularly good fourth quarter, the group reported an overall 3.9% rise in turnover during 2013 to just over €4bn (£3.28bn), with earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) amounting to €141.7m (£116.4m). This compares to restated turnover of €3.88bn and EBITA of €141.6m the previous year.

Revenue from transport was just over €2bn, down 1.2% on 2012, boosted in part by new contracts in the 4PL operation. The logistics division, meanwhile, contributed €1.95bn, up 9.4%, while the much smaller freight forwarding division contributed €145m, up 1.3%.

Operating profit in transport fell from 3.1% to 2.7% last year, with a decline in full load business brought on by adverse economic conditions being only partly offset by more stable conditions in ND’s pallet network segment. Operating profit in logistics rose from 4.4% to 4.5%, however, which included one-off benefits from the sale and leaseback of a handful of UK logistics sites originally brought into the group as a result of the TDG acquisition.

Merits of the business model

Commenting on the results, ND chief executive Hervé Montjotin said that 2013 “confirms the merits of the business model and strategy”, adding that ND had “made considerable progress” during the year and now had “every reason to be confident in our future”.

Talking later to, Montjotin pointed to the firm’s 4PL activities, which include a £60m contract with Tata Corus and a £30m contract for Aggregate Industries, as a particular highlight within the transport division. He said that restructuring of the division - which has seen ND focus more of its efforts on Eastern Europe over the last two years - was now 70% complete. “The main job has been done now,” he said.

In logistics, meanwhile, organic growth of almost 7% had been sustained, he stressed – mainly driven by growth in the UK, France, Italy and The Netherlands.

While the UK’s share of ND’s total turnover fell from almost 32% to 30% last year, it still represented a major and growing part of the business, added Montjotin.

“We are really pleased by the way our UK business is growing, especially in contract logistics where we have won a number of significant new customers recently, like the contract with Asos in August,” he said.

There was now “a real recipe for growth” in the UK contract logistics sector, added Montjotin, and while things are admittedly tougher in transport, the firm is “at breakeven-plus” in the UK and “reasonably optimistic for 2014”.

Norbert Dentressangle  – key figures, 12 months to 31 December

Group turnover from continuing operations:  €4.03bn.

Group earnings before interest, tax,and amortisation: €141.7m.

Earnings margin: 3.5% (2012 3.7%).

Transport division turnover: €2.01bn (- 1.2%)

Logistics division turnover: €1.95bn (+ 9.4%)

Freight forwarding turnover: €145m (+ 1.3%)

Group net debt as at 31 December: €456m (2012: €489m)