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Activity fall at grain trader W&R Barnett after coronavirus outbreak


W&R Barnett boss William Barnett

W&R Barnett boss William Barnett

W&R Barnett boss William Barnett

Northern Ireland's largest international grain trader has increased its turnover by 10% to £1.4bn just as its boss reveals a drop in activity due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The annual figures relating to business up until July 2019 at Belfast-based W&R Barnett also showed a fall in pre-tax profits of 6% to £46m down from last year's £52m.

Chief executive William Barnett said the decrease was down to "weaker commodity trading performance, together with losses on investments and the absence of the exceptional asset sale in the prior year".

"The increase in revenue comes in equal measure from an increase in the volume and the price of agricultural commodities sold in the year, reflecting a high demand driven by poor weather in 2018," he said.

W&R Barnett is the holding company of a diversified group of international commodity trading, storage, agribusiness and industrial companies.

It is a global trader of molasses and related liquid commodities, and the leading trader of grain and non-grain animal feed commodities.

It is also a prominent supplier of bulk liquid storage facilities to the UK food, feed, industrial and energy sectors with over 400,000 cubic meters of storage assets located on the Mersey, Humber, Thames and Avonmouth. Through John Thompson & Sons, it is the largest manufacturer of animal feed in Northern Ireland.

Throughout the past year the firm boosted its staff count by 3% to 1,613 largely due to its first full year of ownership of The Cardboard Box Company, which it acquired in June 2018.

During 2018 it also bought over Braeside Group through its subsidiary Logson Holdings for just under £11m. Braeside designs and manufactures corrugated cases and packaging.

And in December 2017, another subsidiary, United Molasses Marketing, took over Argos Feed Group, a specialist in molasses marketing, for a total of £1.2m.

In the report the directors state that principal risks for the business arise from foreign exchange fluctuations, the commodity markets and customer credit. However the company is now feeling fluctuations in demand due to the coronavirus.

Explaining Covid-19 had affected trade, Mr Barnett said: "We are seeing business activity levels decline in most areas after a relatively solid March driven by short-term consumer stock building on essentials."

The report said: "The directors consider that both the level of business during the year and the financial position at the year-end were satisfactory. The group will continue to invest in people, product development, facilities and suitable acquisitions in order to ensure its ongoing development."

It added that the looming change in landscape post-Brexit UK will also create some uncertainty for the group, "although with relatively low overall risk".

"The directors are confident that the group is in a strong position to react quickly at the appropriate time when the UK/EU relationship does become clear, in order to continue to provide the highest levels of services to our customers," it said.

W&R Barnett also operates in western Europe, Asia and central America. It is considered one of the most successful family-controlled businesses in NI.

Belfast Telegraph