Thursday 18 March 2021 10:02 am

National Express careers to £380m loss as pandemic forces emergency stop

Coach firm National Express this morning reported a £381.4m operating loss for 2020 as the pandemic drove its vehicles off the road for months at a time.

The FTSE 250 company saw passenger numbers plunge 80 per cent when last year’s initial lockdowns struck, sending profit and revenue tumbling.

For the full year, it swung into the red after making a £242m operating profit in 2019. Post-tax, the loss was £326.7m.

It also saw revenue take a dent, falling from £2.7bn to £1.94bn from 2019 to 2020.

As a result of the rough ride over the last 12 months, National Express said that it would not pay out a dividend for the year.

It said it would try to reinstate its dividend “as soon as economic conditions allows”.

Shares in the firm fell 3.8 per cent by the mid-morning.

Ignacio Garat, the firm’s chief executive, struck a relatively upbeat note, saying that the travel “trajectory is improving”.

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“The fourth quarter of 2020 [was] our strongest of the year and the global vaccination roll-out [is] accelerating. We have seen this momentum continuing into 2021 with slowly improving revenue trends and positive EBITDA in January and February.”

However, he warned that “the situation we find ourselves in is not one that we can ultimately control and the timing of full recovery remains uncertain as we are still subject to lockdowns and related restrictions in every market we operate in.”

Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “The difficulty for National Express has been to master how it adapts to the pandemic. Offering greater season ticket flexibility is a wise idea and it has looked to execute fresh ideas to work with what it has.

“However, the real recovery for the operator will not come until restrictions are eased and the UK public looks to get on the road again, visiting friends, family and places they have been starved of throughout the pandemic.” 

Despite the rocky year, National Express continued to win new business, picking up £900m in new contracts across its geographies. The firm also made its first entry into Portugal.