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Logistics companies are vital to the modern economy, storing, shipping and delivering goods within countries and across borders.

Although the biggest multinational businesses in the sector are based outside the UK, there is a pool of smaller listed companies on the London Stock Exchange.

Alongside traditional activities in the UK such as trucking and warehouses, they offer exposure to a wide range of markets from tax documentation services for online vendors, to running tugboats in Brazil.

Xpediator

Xpediator joined London’s junior market in August, raising £5m through an initial public offering.

Its business is freight forwarding, an activity that involves arranging the shipment of goods by buying and selling transportation capacity via road, rail, air or sea. Large companies in this sector include Germany’s DHL and Kuehne + Nagel of Switzerland.

Xpediator’s main operations are based in the UK and central and eastern Europe and its services include warehousing, fulfilment of ecommerce orders and express delivery of small shipments of freight on pallets.

It targets niche markets, such as fashion logistics, and also provides inclusive fuel and toll cards, as well as financial and support services for hauliers in southern Europe.

It has an “asset-light” business model, which means it does not own assets such as trucks and ships. Management says this should allow “significant growth” without any material increase to its fixed costs.

Before it went public Xpediator reported strong growth, operating profit rose more than 25 per cent between 2014 and 2016 to £3.5m before exceptional items. Its revenue last year was £76.3m.

A key strategy is to build the company through acquisitions. This month it spent £1.2m on Regional Express, a business that ensures sellers using Amazon are compliant with VAT registration, among other services.

Following the deal, house broker Cantor Fitzgerald increased its forecasts for operating profit in 2018 by 4.5 per cent, to £6.4m.

Shares in the group are trading at 38p, above its placing price of 24p, giving it a market capitalisation of £42m.

Ocean Wilsons

As the owner of some of the biggest container ports and tugboat services in Brazil, Ocean Wilsons is one of the more unusual propositions among the UK’s logistics small-caps.

The group is a holding company whose main asset is a majority stake in Wilson Sons, a Brazilian maritime logistics business that dates back to 1837.

Wilson Sons also runs warehouses, harbour and ocean towage, small vessel construction, a shipping agency and offshore oil and gas support services.

The business has suffered in recent years after Brazil was struck by the worst recession its history. But with the country emerging from its downturn, there are hopes for a sustained trade rebound in Latin America’s largest economy. Brazil’s exports are up one-fifth so far this year on the same period in 2016.

Ocean Wilsons reported a 15 per cent rise in quarterly tax after profit to $26.1m for the three months ended September 30. Sales increased 3.1 per cent to $129.4m during the same period, driven by higher port terminal and logistics revenue.

However, the company said there remained “stress” in the oil and gas services market. Alongside its operating business, which is the main source of earnings, Ocean Wilsons also has a portfolio of investments.

Shares in the company have performed well throughout 2017, gaining 13.2 per cent to trade at £11.57, to give a market capitalisation of £409m.

Wincanton

One of the UK’s largest supply chain outsourcing providers, Wincanton offers services that include trucking, warehousing and inventory management. It also repairs and maintains vehicles.

“There isn’t a lot of top-line or bottom-line growth but it offers a good dividend,” said Robin Byde, an analyst at brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald.

“But the key issue is they need a credible strategy whether organic or through acquisitions over the next few years.”

Wincanton is attempting to respond to the challenge. It posted a 3.4 per cent rise in revenue to £581m in the six months ended September 30, while pre-tax profit increased 3.6 per cent to £20.3m.

New contract wins played a part. A notable deal was to set up and run two new distribution centres for Swedish furniture retailer Ikea, as well as home delivery services in the south-east of England.

Investors will be aware of a legacy pension scheme, to which the company is making payments to plug a funding deficit.

The stock is up 3.9 per cent this year-to-date to 256p, valuing the company at £318m.

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