In 2020 Ferd Capital strengthened its focus on companies that we through our role as an active owner can develop to achieve their full potential.
In a demanding year that was shaped by Covid-19, the majority of our portfolio companies achieved good earnings growth, and 2020 marked the fourth year in a row in which the combined earnings of all our portfolio companies increased.
Ferd Capital achieved a return of 24% in 2020.
In 2020 Covid-19 had a major impact on societies and economies globally. At the same time, the measures implemented by the authorities helped maintain the activity levels and purchasing power of households and businesses to a significant extent. In the real economy, Covid-19 had a major negative impact on certain sectors, such as leisure travel and tourism, while its impact on others, such as those based for example on the consumption of basic commodities, local purchasing power and new technology, was positive. Despite the pandemic’s significant negative impact on some sectors, the broad-based S&P 500 Index ended the year up around 15%, while the Nasdaq, which is heavily weighted towards tech companies, ended the year up 40%. The Norwegian stock market was also up over the year as a whole, but the increase of less than 5% was weaker than the stock markets of neighbouring countries. The increasing focus on ESG companies gained strength in 2020, and this also contributed to particularly large increases in the valuations of related companies and sectors.
In 2020 Ferd Capital continued to focus on investment opportunities that reflect Ferd’s ability to be flexible and take a long-term approach. In the private transaction market we experienced a high level of competition for new investment opportunities during 2020, and we expect this to continue into 2021
- Aibel had a year of high activity level and strong project execution in all its business areas, despite the demanding circumstances associated with Covid-19. Further, the company solidified its strong market position in offshore wind. A large proportion of its order book does now comprise “green” projects.
- Brav had an eventful 2020. The start of the year was challenging due to high inventory levels of customers, the large sports retailer Gresvig filing for insolvency, and a warm winter season. This was followed by the abrupt halt to sales brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. But over the course of the spring and summer the pandemic induced “staycation” led to a boost in sales of outdoor wear and goods, as well as a conversion of sales to Brav’s own retail stores and eCom. In addition, Brav underwent a major reorganisation in spring 2020 led by the new CEO, intended to leverage Brav’s competitiveness to facilitate further growth.
- For Fürst Medisinsk Laboratorium, 2020 was shaped by the pandemic. The first few months after the outbreak saw significantly lower volumes of tests from GP’s, with this partially offset by an increased volume of SARS-CoV-2 tests. In 2020 Fürst analysed far more SARS-CoV-2 tests than any other independent private lab in Norway. The lab focused in 2020 on maintaining its operations through quality control procedures to enable it to analyse as many tests as possible and to deliver on response times. In 2020 Fürst secured contract renewals with the regional health authorities in HSØ and HSV through public tenders. WebMed, the electronic patient journal developed by Fürst, is being piloted and is expected to be rolled-out during2021.
- Elopak performed very strongly in what was an extraordinary year. Despite the adaptations required due to Covid-19, the company made very good progress in terms of improved operations in its factories. With regards to the pandemic, Elopak’s volumes were affected differently across regions. In Europe, volumes grew in the second quarter as customers increased their inventory levels, but this trend reversed in the third quarter. In the US, the pandemic had a negative impact on volumes, due in part to product mix considerations. Overall, the company delivered a strong improvement in profitability and continued to strengthen its leading position in relation to sustainability.
- Fjord Line had a very challenging 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company went into 2020 with solid results and record-high bookings for the high season. However, traffic was brought to an abrupt halt following the introduction of travel restrictions on March 12th. 90% of the company’s revenue disappeared over night and the company had to take major steps to ensure it would be able to continue to operate, including staff layoffs and furloughs and other cost reductions, refinancing and capital injections from the the owners. Fjord Line continued to operate an important freight route between Norway and Denmark throughout 2020, but traffic volumes were otherwise very low, and revenue was down 55% compared to 2019.
- Interwell again demonstrated in 2020 how resilient it is to downcycles in the market. 2020 was characterised by the pandemic and significant volatility in the price of oil. Covid-19 caused activity levels to fall in some markets, and the company’s operations in Africa were impacted by Interwell’s inability to transport field personnel to the region. However, Interwell’s revenue and profitability were in line with 2019, which was a record-breaking year. The company grew in its two largest regions, Norway and the Middle East. The company’s future growth prospects remain very strong.
- In 2020 Mestergruppen saw strong growth in sales of building materials to the retail market as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns, while growth in the professional market was at a more normal level. The strong market conditions in combination with good cost control and the hard work of all employees helped the company to achieve historically strong results. Mestergruppen also used the year to adopt new strategic positions, and in April it completed its acquisition of the Bolist chain in Sweden. The group is now a Nordic leader in building materials and is becoming an ever more attractive partner for independent building materials companies.
- Servi had a relatively stable 2020 in terms of activity levels despite the pandemic. The year started well with Servi having a strong intake of orders as it entered 2020, but the outbreak of Coronavirus caused a delay indeley new orders. This improved through the second half of the year, and the company secured an order for emergency ventilators from the Sykehusinnkjøp. Service jobs were particularly challenging to access in 2020, but Servi’s capacity in this area was used in other parts of the business. In 2020 Servi continued its work to adapt its cost base and it scaled down its operations in Trondheim, which only had partial effect in 2020. These initiatives had a positive impact on Servi’s profitability, which further improved during 2020.
- Mnemonic saw information security come into greater focus as a result of increased use of digital collaboration solutions and greater awareness of the importance of digitalised processes. This led to strong demand for the company’s products and services. In 2020 Mnemonic won important contracts in Norway and internationally in connection with its long-term operations solutions and it achieved particularly high growth in this division. The company is also investing significantly in building an international position through a separate sales function and the development of its services. Mnemonic experienced low employee turnover and was able to recruit numerous talented new employees. In 2020 the company won the ‘Great Place to Work’ award for Norway for the second year in a row.
- Simployer continued to deliver growth and a good level of profitability in 2020. Ferd became the new majority shareholder in Simployer at the start of 2020, and extensive work on the company’s strategy and organisation was completed, and new business management systems were implemented. As a consequence of the strategy work, Simployer will significantly increase its level of investment in product development, and the company also announced an acquisition of &frankly, a Swedish employee engagement company, in December 2020. The market for HR technology and expertise is growing, and Simployer is well positioned as the largest provider in Norway and Sweden.
In 2020 Ferd Capital’s primary focus was on supporting its companies through a demanding year. With regard to investment activities, Ferd Capital increased its stake in a number of listed companies, while in the Private Companies mandate we completed the acquisition of a majority shareholding in Simployer.
Ferd Capital invests through three investment mandates: Private companies, Listed companies and Special Investments. At the end of the year, the Ferd Capital business area consisted of 15 employees who have a broad range of experience from both Ferd and other companies.
Ferd Capital has a portfolio of companies in a range of sectors that we believe are well positioned to create value in 2021 and beyond. Ferd also has sizeable unused investment capacity, and it will emphasise working proactively on new investment opportunities. Our three investment mandates give us a significant flexibility in terms of the types of investment we can make, and we will focus again in 2021 on opportunities where we can make use of Ferd’s competitive advantages, both in the form of add-on investments to existing portfolio companies and potential new portfolio companies.