CapMan’s Poukka: Transportation infrastructure sector ‘still relevant’ after Norled exit

Norled, a Norwegian marine transportation company, proved its resiliency during the pandemic, he said.

CapMan sees further opportunities in the transportation infrastructure sector, despite it exiting one of its investments in the industry a little earlier than originally planned, managing partner Ville Poukka has told PE Hub Europe.

CapMan and CBRE Investment Management each acquired a 50 percent stake in Norled in 2019. In early August, CapMan announced its exit from Norled, with New York-based CBRE IM taking full control of the company. The exit was the first from the CapMan Nordic Infrastructure I fund.

“The ownership period was slightly shorter than we expected, as many things happened at a faster pace than we thought,” said Poukka.

Norled is a marine transportation company based in Stavanger, Norway, with a fleet of 41 ferries and 30 express boats. Norled has invested capital in new types of vessels and technology, including hybrid and battery-driven vessels, and a hydrogen-electric ferry.

During its three-year ownership, the team at Helsinki-based CapMan had their “hands full”, according to Poukka. Working with a transportation company during a global pandemic involved challenges. “It definitely was a dynamic work environment,” Poukka added.

Early on, CapMan and CBRE IM identified the need to carve Norled out of its previous owner, family-owned company Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab (DSD). Other changes implemented during the ownership period included improving the tender team’s success rate, creating a board of directors, appointing a managing director, and more recently, appointing a new CFO.

The number of low-emission ferries rose from two to 18 – the beginning of a trend, according to Poukka.

Poukka could not give detailed return figures or the sale price, but said: “We’re pleased with the investment, as well as the sale price. There was a fair offer on the table, and we took it.”

Lessons learned

Norled uses capacity-based contracts, which CapMan identified as a strength, especially during the pandemic. “The pandemic proved to us how infra-like this investment really is,” he said. “Volumes were down during covid, but schedules and the movement of ferries have been consistent.”

Poukka describes the sector as “still relevant” for CapMan and thinks the Norwegian marine transportation sector could be used as a model in other coastal cities.

Having experienced the pandemic, he would now approach the sector with a new understanding. “The pandemic taught all infra investors what disruption in the normal movement of people does to passenger amounts,” he said. “With that lesson learned, we think there is still a lot to do in the sector in terms of electrification.”

Furthermore, infra investors can step in where municipalities do not have enough capital to develop transportation infrastructure towards a more environmentally friendly option, according to Poukka. “I encourage other infrastructure investors to research this sector. If there’s a chance to get in, it’ll be an interesting case which will see growth.”