Brim displayed its strength in a difficult year. Operations are solid, the staff is diligent and the company's equity is strong, but all of these aspects were tested in the year 2020. Covid-19 had a great impact on the company’s operations, but in spite of closures and transport limitations in all continents the company’s customers were able to rely on the safe delivery of high quality goods from the company. The company’s employees, who were under a lot of pressure all year, did incredibly well in difficult conditions.
Brim is an integrated fisheries company and in the changed circumstances due to Covid, the strength of having the flexibility that comes with integrated operations was revealed, from fishing and processing to sales and marketing activities. Brims' processing plant at Norðurgarður in Reykjavík was renovated, with the installation of high-tech processing equipment that will permanently strengthen the company’s operations. The renovation of the processing plant is also the reason why the catch was slightly smaller in 2020 than the year before and the catch on the fishing day was also smaller as the processing plant was closed for over three months and the fishing therefore controlled differently and the catch status was good heading into the new year. However, these are fluctuations that are considered normal in the fisheries sector.
Prices in foreign markets were lower than before due to the pandemic, but on the other hand the exchange rate of the Icelandic króna was weak, which strengthens export companies such as Brim. The company increased sales of products through its own sales companies abroad, which increased the group's revenue. The results are that revenue increased from 261 million euros in 2019 to 292 million, or from over 40 billion króna to over 45 billion, but profit decreased from almost 34 million euros to just over 29 million, or from 5.3 billion króna to about 4.5 billion, and the so-called EBITDA margin decreased from 24.2% to 19.6%. In my opinion, the company's financial operations during the year are acceptable in light of the circumstances.
The settlement of non-financial aspects, which Brim has led for four years among fisheries companies, shows that the company remains at the forefront in the field of sustainability, social responsibility, environmental and human resources issues. The projects in this field that Brim’s employees work on, often in collaboration with suppliers and customers, number in the hundreds every month and they result in the operations having a smaller ecological footprint, increased employee satisfaction and increased quality of life in the company's local community. In the year 2020, the pandemic showed us how much we all depend on each other and how easy it is for us to be weakened, and simultaneously how a strong society strengthens us all. At sea we have long known that we are all in the same boat.
Concurrent with successful operations, Brim looks to a future built on respect for the environment, good conduct with the ocean’s resources and the company’s investments that create new opportunities and permanently improve performance. The company's investment policy promotes reform of both financial and non-financial aspects of its operations. Recent investments in catch quotas, high-tech equipment in Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður and Vopnafjörður have strengthened operations, reduced energy consumption, reduced waste and ecological footprint, increased safety and job satisfaction, increased opportunities for innovation and promoted Brims' role as a pillar of power and an important part of the infrastructure of the community the company belongs to. We will continue on this path. Brim’s clear policy is to split profits after taxes in two every year. One half goes to the payment of rent for the use of funds owned by the owners in the company which is called dividends. The other half is retained by the company to finance the future development of the company. Over the last 30 years, the ratio of retained earnings has been around 60% of the company's average profit and that is why Brim has a lot of equity.
The year 2020 was certainly difficult in at times, but we at Brim will remember it for our major investments in radical renewal and growth. The difficulties toughened us up and made us stronger, We are well equipped to fulfill the company's role of responsibly maximizing the value of natural resources that Brim utilizes and to ensure customers around the world a steady supply of healthy seafood processed from sustainable fish stocks in Iceland.
Icelandic companies in the fishing industry are aiming for international markets where competition is growing and fierce. Conditions change rapidly. In a quarter of a century, the world's supply of farmed fish has increased fivefold and now exceeds that of wild products. At the same time, the largest international companies in fish farming and fisheries have grown enormously and an increasingly large share of turnover is in the hands of large international companies. Each of the 13 largest has a bigger turnover than all Icelandic fisheries companies combined, and the largest of them have almost five times as much as the Icelandic fisheries. Icelanders’ share has decreased correspondingly in recent years, but our share in value is now less than 1.4% of the world market. The competition between Icelandic fisheries and large international companies for access to valuable markets is extremely fierce and costly, but success there is crucial for the growth and development of the industry in Iceland. Various co-operation between domestic parties in the field of fishing, processing, distribution and sales is necessary in ever-changing circumstances, as the common interests of the companies and all Icelanders are enormous, since over 99% of the industry's income comes from abroad. In light of this, it could be assumed that in this country there was a common understanding between the government and the fishing industry of normal and fair rules and a consensus on protecting the interests of us all. But that is not always the case. Here’s an example that directly relates to Brim’s shareholders.
The Competition Authority, which, as the news demonstrate, has intervened in mergers of companies in the fishing industry for the past 15 years, despite the fact that the law on fisheries management, which limits each company's maximum catch quotas, goes far beyond competition laws on mergers or consolidation of companies and limits the opportunities for companies in the fishing industry to merge more than companies in other sectors in Iceland. In 2020, there were major delays in the Competition Authority's approval of Brims' acquisition of the fisheries Kambur and Grábrók, and these delays resulted in damage to all the companies and their employees. Delays in this approval were unreasonable as the Competition Authority had a report from the University of Iceland Institute of Economics from 2010 stating that there was no abnormal concentration in the Icelandic fishing industry compared to the international HHI criteria that the Competition Authority itself points to as the main method for assessing market concentration. The main purpose of the Competition Act is to promote a healthy competitive environment in Iceland and ensure the interests of consumers. Companies and their management can violate the Competition Act in two ways; firstly if they take part in illegal collusion on factors that impair the interests of consumers and secondly if the company has a dominant position in a competitive market and abuses that position. Brim has neither been accused nor suspected of illegal collusion and nothing has been revealed in the company's work or operations that indicates this. The results of the investigation conducted by Arev on concentration in the fishing industry are available, which show that there is active competition in all markets in which Brim and other Icelandic fisheries operate according to international and recognized standards, and that concentration in the industry is very low. Nevertheless, the Competition Authority sees reason to delay the normal and obvious efforts of companies in the Icelandic fishing industry to bolster themselves in tough competition in foreign markets with their products through unwarranted correspondence, inquiries and legal loopholes without ever having to demonstrate whose interests the Authority is defending.
This is not the whole story, because despite the efforts of the government when the law on the Competition Authority was passed in 1993 to exclude manufacturing companies that export from certain provisions of the Competition Act and with the amendments to the Competition Act that came into force at the beginning of this year, onerous obligations are again being introduced in the Minister of Fisheries bill on amendments to laws in the field of fish management which is currently being debated in the Parliament. There are provisions in that that narrow the working conditions of Icelandic fisheries beyond what is known elsewhere. First, the definitions of "actual control" of companies are expanded so that restrictions on mergers of companies in the Icelandic fishing industry are greater than companies in other industries in this country and, in addition, they are greater than those that apply to fisheries elsewhere in Europe, incl. the large international companies, each of which is larger than the entire Icelandic fishing industry. In the explanatory memorandum to this bill it is not possible to find what interests these changes are supposed to protect. The rationale behind the changes is weak, the government’s consultations, or collaboration with the industry non-existent and the government's actions and efforts are pointless and cause damage to fisheries and in the end, damage the possibility of Icelandic fisheries to deal with international competition and strengthen the national economy with improved performance.
Public debate on the fishing industry, which is the foundation of the economy and industry in this country, is necessary. It is important that different points of view are given room and the facts are allowed to speak for themselves. Such a discussion ultimately leads to a greater understanding of the common interests of the industry and the country’s general public. It should be easy to agree on the goal that the organization of the industry contributes first and foremost to the greatest possible value creation in the industry, which is achieved through the sale of products in valuable markets and the creation of opportunities in the support and service industries. It is therefore surprising that the government, either institutions or government officials, repeatedly stand in the way and hinder Icelandic fisheries in achieving that goal. It is my conviction that through open discussion, transparency, data processing and dissemination of facts, we will succeed in creating conditions in this country that make the Icelandic fisheries sector excellent and increase our share in foreign markets and thus strengthen Icelandic industry and society.
Brim is the largest fishing company in Iceland with catch quotas, which correspond to close to 12% in cod equivalents. Brim has operating units in Reykjavík, Akranes, Vopnafjörður and Hafnarfjörður. This year, an average of nine fishing vessels were in operation. The company's head offices are at Norðurgarður in Reykjavík. The company's executive board is located there, along with the finance, groundfish, pelagic, marketing and human resources divisions. The number of Brim’s full-time equivalents, in addition to subsidiaries, averaged 769 in 2020 and cover the entire value chain, i.e. fishing, processing, sale and distribution of the company's products. The company is listed on the main market of the stock exchange, NASDAQ OMX Iceland.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the group's operations during the year. Efforts were made to ensure the safety of employees, and with the concerted effort of staff, disruptions to the operations were prevented. Various preventive measures were taken against infection and great emphasis was placed on increased hygiene, staff separation, restrictions on access to operation units and other things related to preventive measures. There have been changes to markets around the world, with altered food consumption patterns and various economic effects. For example, restaurants and canteens in the group's key markets have either been closed or operations have been reduced, and sales methods are therefore different than before. On the other hand, sales of seafood products have increased in other markets, such as in retail stores. Transport routes, not least by air, but also by sea, have been disrupted and costs increased, and the composition of production has also changed due to the above factors.
Brim continues to focus on environmental issues and community-related projects, and various projects were carried out during the year. The main projects of the year 2020, which were related to environmental and social issues, are listed here, but they are then explained in more detail in the discussion of Brim’s operations.
The group underwent changes in 2020.