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Sappi Limited results for the fourth quarter and year ended September 2012. Strategic initiatives yield solid results; good progress on debt reduction
By: PR Newswire
Nov. 8, 2012 02:02 AM
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
Commenting on the key financial highlights of the quarterly and year-end results, Sappi (NYSE: SPP, JSE: SAP) Chief Executive Officer Ralph Boettger said:
"Sappi posted a solid set of fourth quarter and financial year-end results. Operating profit excluding special items for the quarter was ahead of market expectations and for the full year remained at similar levels as last year. This good performance was in spite of challenging market conditions and pulp prices that were substantially lower in Dollar terms which negatively impacted on the Southern African and North American businesses.
"The European and North American paper businesses performed well during the quarter, despite tough market conditions, benefiting from our ongoing actions over the past two years to further improve customer service, reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
"Overall, the performance of the Southern African business was negatively impacted by the rescheduling of the planned maintenance shut at Saiccor Mill from the third quarter to the fourth quarter and continued weakness in the South African paper market. However, the South African paper business reduced fixed costs by 20% as a result of the restructuring initiative completed earlier in the year and improved performance compared to the same quarter last year. The business has continued to take action to position itself for improved profitability. The Chemical Cellulose (Specialised Cellulose) business performed well, generating an EBITDA excluding special items margin of 30%. Saiccor Mill also achieved record production volumes in the past year.
"I am pleased that we have achieved, a year earlier than initially indicated, our goal of reducing our net debt to below our target of US$2 billion.
"Given continued uncertainty in global financial markets, and questions around the timing of any meaningful economic recovery in our major markets, we expect trading conditions to remain challenging for the next twelve months. However, we believe that the actions we have taken in all of our paper businesses over the past two years, and the strategy of investing in higher margin, higher growth businesses such as Specialised Cellulose will enable us to continue to improve our ability to generate shareholder value in the coming year, but importantly, also position us for an acceleration of that growth in the years ahead."
Net profit for the year amounted to US$104 million compared to a net loss of US$232 million in the prior year. The prior net loss included special item losses of US$318 million, principally related to the restructuring of the European and Southern African operations. Earnings per share were significantly better, with earnings per share of 20 US cents (including a charge of 10 US cents in respect of special items and once-off refinancing costs) compared to a loss per share of 45 US cents (including a charge of 65 US cents in respect of special items and once-off refinancing costs) in the prior year.
Operating profit excluding special items for the quarter was US$118 million, a significant improvement when compared to US$80 million in the equivalent quarter last year and US$60 million in the quarter ended June 2012. Sappi posted a net profit for the quarter of US$107 million off the back of an improved operating performance and lower interest costs as result of the refinancing undertaken in the prior quarter. Earnings per share for the quarter were 21 US cents (including a gain of 10 US cents in respect of special items) compared with a loss per share of 24 US cents (including a charge of 26 US cents in respect of special items) in the equivalent quarter last year.
During the quarter we announced the planned conversion of PM2 at the Alfeld Mill from 150,000 tons of coated fine paper to 135,000 tons of speciality paper per annum. This conversion will not only increase our capacity in a growing and higher margin specialised business, but will also improve our cost position in coated woodfree graphic paper and further reduce our graphic paper capacity in line with our strategy.
In South Africa, substantial electricity price increases from Eskom, the national electricity supplier, continued to put pressure on costs, and lower average pulp prices impacted negatively on operating performance. Post the quarter-end, we announced the decision to mothball PM4, a sackkraft and containerboard machine, at the Tugela Mill from 01 January 2013. We are currently in a consultation process with employees at the mill regarding potential retrenchments. The asset impairment charge related to the mothballing of the machine of R76 million was taken in this quarter and is included in special items.
Net cash generated for the quarter and for the full year was lower at US$203 million (2011 US$279 million) and US$127 million (2011 US$163 million) respectively. Increased spending on the dissolving wood pulp (chemical cellulose) investments at the Ngodwana and Cloquet Mills resulted in higher capital expenditure for the quarter of US$112 million from US$103 million in equivalent quarter last year.
Our net debt now stands at US$1,979 million compared to US$2,100 million in the equivalent quarter last year. Additionally, during the year we successfully refinanced US$700 million of debt resulting in the extension of our maturities and reduction in our finance costs. The refinancing will reduce our annual interest charge by US$45 million and our cash interest charge by US$30 million per annum.
We have renamed the Chemical Cellulose division Sappi Specialised Cellulose to better reflect our product range and the increased importance to the group of our dissolving wood pulp business. We expect that demand will continue to grow in the coming year and beyond. The conversion of the Ngodwana and Cloquet pulp mills from hardwood kraft pulp to dissolving wood pulp continues on schedule.
Sir Nigel Rudd, who has served as a non-executive director for six years, will succeed Professor Meyer Feldberg as lead independent director on 01 January 2013, given that Professor Feldberg retires from the board at the end of December 2012, having reached the board's mandatory retirement age.
Pulp prices, despite having recovered from their recent lows, are expected to remain lower on average in 2013 than they were in 2012. This will negatively impact our North American and Southern African businesses, which are net sellers of pulp, but will have a favourable impact on our European business which is a net buyer of pulp.
We expect that demand for dissolving wood pulp in our Specialised Cellulose operations will continue to grow in the coming year and beyond. We believe that particularly with our additional low cost capacity, we are well positioned to take advantage of this growth. We have made further good progress in signing long-term contracts for a significant portion of our new dissolving wood pulp capacity.
We expect the first quarter results for the Southern African operations to be in line with those achieved in the fourth quarter of 2012. Operating profit in the first financial quarter of 2013 is expected to be weaker than the equivalent quarter last year as a result of lower pulp prices, slightly lower paper prices in Europe, as well as the impact of the road transport strike in South Africa.
We expect a modest cash outflow in the important transitional year ahead due to the increase in capital expenditure on the Specialised Cellulose investments. Our finance costs will be substantially lower following the refinancing in 2012 and we expect that the net debt will end the coming year essentially flat year-on-year, barring the impact of any adverse foreign currency translations.
Additional downtime, variable costs and paper pulp purchases during the start-up phase of the Ngodwana and Cloquet projects are expected to have a negative impact of approximately US$40 million in the 2013 financial year.
Provided that there is no further deterioration in global market conditions, we expect continued profit growth, with the once-off negative operational impact of the conversion projects and the expected lower pulp prices being offset by the lower finance costs.
The full results announcement is available at www.sappi.com
There will be a conference call to which investors are invited. Full details are available at www.sappi.com using the links Investor Info; Investor Calendar; 4Q12 Financial Results
Certain statements in this release that are neither reported financial results nor other historical information, are forward-looking statements, including but not limited to statements that are predictions of or indicate future earnings, savings, synergies, events, trends, plans or objectives.
The words "believe", "anticipate", "expect", "intend", "estimate", "plan", "assume", "positioned", "will", "may", "should", "risk" and other similar expressions, which are predictions of or indicate future events and future trends, which do not relate to historical matters, identify forward-looking statements. You should not rely on forward-looking statements because they involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which are in some cases beyond our control and may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially from anticipated future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements (and from past results, performance or achievements). Certain factors that may cause such differences include but are not limited to:
We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of these forward looking statements, whether to reflect new information or future events or circumstances or otherwise.
SOURCE Sappi Limited
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