Can SNCF back the growth of its subsidiaries?
The relative financial stability that the SNCF Group experiences after years brings a positive message to the French rail freight and logistics market. Nevertheless, the revenue growth noticed in 2021 and the first half of 2022 might not be rough to support the expansion plans of its subsidiaries. For instance, SNCF’s logistics subsidiary Geodis might soon be looking for external investors to finance much-needed acquisitions.
The possibility that Geodis might turn to investors other than SNCF-its mother company was discussed by the company’s CEO Marie-Christine Lombard in an interview with the French newspaper La Tribune. According to her, “an opening of Geodis’ capital to other investors is possible to carry out transformative acquisitions”.
SNCF’s financial struggles
To understand the context of this statement, one should look at the recent financial history of SNCF. The Group’s turnaround has been negative for some years, with its freight subsidiary SNCF Fret scoring the worst figures, making it a revenue-loss business.
However, 2021 and at least the first half of 2022 have brought some optimism to the company’s financial department. Specifically, for 2021, the freight subsidiary saw a 6 per cent revenue increase, something that the CEO of SNCF Group Jean-Pierre Farandou framed as a ‘mission impossible’ yet delivered. The numbers in 2022, so far, show a turnaround of 928 million euros for the whole group, allowing even more space for optimistic future forecasts.
One fixed component
Both 2021 and 2022 as growth years for the SNCF Group have a shared component. This is the successful and profitable business of Geodis, the logistics and road transport subsidiary of the Group, which is also active in other continents like the US via company acquisitions.
Specifically, Geodis reported record revenues in 2021, with sales up 28 per cent at 10,9 billion euros, while in 2022, it was also framed as the Group’s financial bloodline since it contributed with a revenue increase of 34 per cent compared to H1 2021, buoyed by freight forwarding, distribution and express delivery and road transport. Contract logistics continued to expand, especially in the United States, even though cost inflation put pressure on its margins.
External investment seems logical
The figures provide a clear picture of Geodis’ significance in the revenue turnaround of the SNCF Group. However, while helping its mother company grow, Geodis also has expansion plans. As briefly highlighted, those plans include company acquisitions and contract logistics in European countries other than France and offshore.
The financial commitment and investment to undertake those acquisitions and long-term partnerships is quite demanding, currently looking like another ‘mission impossible’ for the SNCF Group. The company, which still balances between fragile revenue turnarounds and loss-making margins, cannot respond to or contribute to its subsidiary’s expansion plans. Thus, the search for external investors looks like a sensible option.