French mail competitor gives up

The major competitor to La Poste in the French addressed mail market has closed down its business, leaving the country heading for full liberalisation in 2011 without any real competition, according to the national postal regulator.

Adrexo Mail, part of the Spir Communication publishing group, effectively stopped operating in most French cities on March 31, the regional newspaper Sud Ouest reported. In February Spir had announced it would shut down the company “over the next few months” due to a combination of losses, a difficult operating environment and the delay in postal liberalisation from 2009 until 2011.

The mail company, set up in 2006 with the aim of becoming the top private competitor to La Poste, made an operating loss of EUR 18 million in 2007. Spir’s overall addressed distribution business, incorporating Adrexo Mail and the small B2C parcels company Distrihome, made a combined operating loss of EUR 16.4 million last year on revenues of EUR 59.1 million. In contrast, the long-established Adrexo unaddressed mail distribution business made an operating profit of EUR 25 million on revenues of EUR 244.5 million last year.

During 2006 and 2007, Adrexo Mail set up addressed mail distribution networks in several key French regions, including Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse. It had been planning to extend its network to other urban areas including Bordeaux, Nantes, Côte d’Azur and Alsace during 2008.

Paul Champsaur, chairman of ARCEP, the head of the French postal regulator, told a conference in Toulouse last month that the withdrawal of Adrexo Mail was “not good news for the French market”.

“On the delivery market, there are neither competitors nor competition,” he declared. “At this stage, market observation shows that under current legislation, competitors similar to Swedish Citymail, Dutch Sandd, German PIN or TNT, Spanish Unipost have little chance to breakeven on the French market,” he said.

The effectively liberalised segment of the French addressed mail market open to real competition was narrow, and mainly comprised business mail over 50g for delivery in urban areas. ARCEP estimated that competitors needed a 20 pct market share in this narrow segment in order to cover just their delivery costs, Champsaur said. “Most probably, alternative operators cannot find sufficient volumes to achieve economies of scale necessary to compete with the USO provider.”

“Under current market conditions, the French market will reach 2011 without a gradual evolution from a quasi monopoly situation to full market opening,” the regulator stated. “It is crucial that the short time (three years) from now on to 2011 is used to favour the emergence of competitors and at the same time drive the adaptation of the incumbent,” he stressed.

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