Transport company Mainfreight's first-quarter results out next month will reflect the tougher trading conditions the company is facing in the new financial year, Mainfreight's managing director Don Braid said.
He told the annual meeting in Auckland today that while the company continued to make steady gains in reducing costs and improving margins, sales volumes had been impacted by slowing economies. "Conversely our market share continues to increase as our sales strategies for growth find success," he said.
Mainfreight is never short of a forthright view of New Zealand's transport and infrastructure and this was the case again at today's meeting. "We need a government that is prepared to listen and understand the need for better rail, road and port infrastructure," Braid said. "We are a trading nation dependent on an efficient logistics strategy. New Zealand ports competing with each other will never deliver the necessary competencies to provide our exporters, importers and shipping lines the opportunity to improve.
"Our port system needs to be capable of handling larger vessels, and require an effective inland transport network that will interface with a super-port strategy. Not to do so will see New Zealand reduced to a trans-shipment destination, eroding our nation's world competitiveness. Attempting to achieve the right transport infrastructure with boards of directors made up of political appointees with little or no transport or infrastructure experience is just plain stupid," Braid said.
Earlier chairman Bruce Plested, in a rallying speech, told shareholders that Mainfreight was actually enjoying the tough global conditions. "The buy-in from our teams all around the world is invigorating and humbling," he said.
While New Zealand had not been hit as hard as many other countries, particularly in terms of job losses, our standard of living in comparison to other countries continued to slide. Solutions and actions seem few and far between, Plested said.
"It is our belief New Zealand must learn to act like the small country we are. We need to behave in the same way as do small schools, small businesses and small towns. We have to be lean, tough, generous of spirit, entrepreneurial, hard working and dedicated to seeing New Zealand improve its living standards and its place in the world. There is no better time than in a global recession to make some big changes. We must find our own destiny and forget about trying to follow the rules and ways of larger countries.
"Now is the time to fight poor laws, get rid of stultifying bureaucracy and the petty bureaucrats that suck us all dry, and certainly to become vocal when we see poor performance from our governments, both local and national," Plested said.
The country needed to find "an entrepreneurial spirit", particularly within those industries that if developed further would provide wealth and employment for future generations, like health, education, tourism and agriculture, he said.
Braid said that Mainfreight's trading during July had seen improvements in volumes, particularly in Australia. "We would expect our operations in the bigger economies of Australia, the United States and China to improve more quickly and robustly than that of our operations in New Zealand," he said. Mainfreight was very well positioned to take advantage of the upside, "and we remain committed to global expansion", he said.