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Northport upbeat on regional fund

Northport upbeat on regional fund, helps lift Marsden Maritime 1H profit 5.4%

By Rebecca Howard

Feb. 23 (BusinessDesk) - Marsden Point-based Northport has welcomed the government's plans to invest in roading and infrastructure projects in Northland and to investigate the viability of a rail link to Northport as it looks to support economic growth across the upper North Island.

Among today's raft of announcements in the Provincial Growth Fund launch today, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones committed $17 million for Northland upgrading a section of State Highway 10, support for two cultural centres and a tourism hub, and a forestry pilot. He also announced a programme of work to develop a comprehensive Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy, which will investigate the feasibility of moving the Ports of Auckland operations to Northport, and look at a rail line between Auckland and Northport to take pressure off the region's roads.

In the lead-up to last year's general election, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters campaigned on moving container operations from Auckland to Northport as part of his party's bid to revitalise Northland's economy. Its coalition deal with the Labour Party saw an agreement to commission a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration.

"We look forward to working with KiwiRail, existing and potential customers, and other stakeholders such as local government, to explore the potential and to assess how it might complement the vision we have of how our port might grow in the future," Northport said in a statement.

Northport outlined its vision for growth last November, seeking public feedback on a proposal to expand the port's wharf east and west, extending its linear berth to as much as 1390 metres from its existing 570 metre berth, and grow the area of the port to 75 hectares from 48 hectares. The port has also said it has more space at its disposal than any other port in New Zealand and has easy access to the entire upper North Island through the State Highway network.

The government's announcement came as NZX-listed Marsden Maritime Holdings, which owns half of Northport, reported a 5.4 percent lift in net profit on modest cargo growth at Northport as well as improving contributions from its other commercial operations, including its marina and commercial unit.

Net profit rose to $5.3 million, or 12.83 cents per share, in the six months ended Dec. 31, from $5 million, or 12.17 cents, a year earlier, the Whangarei-based company said in a statement. Revenue gained 8.7 percent to $7.4 million, of which the majority came from its Northport stake.

Overall cargo throughput at Northport was up 3 percent to 1.91 million tonnes, with log volumes increasing by 2 percent.

The board declared an interim dividend of 6.75 cents per share, payable on March 23, up from 6.25 cents in the prior year.

Looking ahead, cargo volumes at Northport for the 12 months ending June 30 are expected to be at a similar level to last year, when 3.6 million tonnes were handled.

"Coupled with continued improvement in returns from our commercial activities, this is expected to provide a further improved full-year trading result for the group," said chair John Goulter.

Marsden and Port of Tauranga each own 50 percent of Northport, and Marsden also owns 100 percent of Marsden Cove and Marina. The company itself is about 54 percent owned by Northland Regional Council and 19.9 percent by Ports of Auckland. The shares rose 1.9 percent to $5.35.

Earlier today Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest port company, raised its full-year earnings guidance after posting a 13 percent gain in first-half profit that was driven by growth in cargo volumes. Net profit rose to $47 million in the six months ended Dec. 31 from $41.9 million a year earlier, the company said in a statement. Sales rose to $141 million from $125 million.


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