Markets & Companies

Chemical Players Expect Gains on Cheap Oil and Euro

13.03.2015 -

The worldwide chemicals economy withstood the strong headwinds battering the industry again in 2014. Financial results reported by companies in Europe and North America showed a mixed picture, but most were able to improve sales and earnings. With uncertainty over the outlook for the world economy and the complex political situation even more heightened in 2015, most CEOs led most corporate chieftains, have been cautious with forecast. Those closest to the petrochemical end of the market said they expect to benefit from cheaper oil and raw materials prices. European companies see themselves as profiting from the lower parity of the euro against the dollar.

Bayer Sets New Records

Germany's Bayer set new records for sales and EBITDA before special items. "Contributing to this in particular was the continuing growth momentum in our Life Science businesses, and especially the pleasing development of our recently launched products," said CEO Marijn Dekkers, adding that plastics sub-group MaterialScience also registered encouraging gains in sales and earnings before special items.

Without adjusting for changes in portfolio and foreign exchange rates, sales rose 5.2% to €42 billion. EBITDA before special items increased 4.9% to EUR 8.8 billion, despite negative currency effects. Life science sub-groups HealthCare and CropScience raised EBITDA before special items by 2.8% and 5% respectively, while MaterialScience, which is to be spun off or floated in 2016 - saw an EBITDA improve 10.7%.

For 2015, Bayer has forecast sales of around € 46 billion and EBITDA improved by a low- to mid-single-digit figure. The softer euro is seen as boosting profitability

BASF Achieves its Goals

"We achieved our goal. We increased earnings despite disappointing economic development in Europe. We grew profitably. We further strengthened our chemicals business and in turn improved our margins. We have our costs firmly under control," BASF said in its report on 2014.

At €74.3 billion, group sales matched the 2013 level of €74 billion, and EBIT before special items rose 4% to €7.4 bn. Volumes increased by 4%, while prices fell 3%, largely due to significant decreases in oil and gas prices. Negative currency effects dampened sales.

Despite uncertainties created by volatile raw materials and currencies, slower growth in emerging markets and global geopolitical conflict, CEO Kurt Bock said he expects EBIT before special items in 2015 to match the 2014 result, thanks not least to stronger industrial momentum triggered not least by the lower oil price.

Evonik Poised for Growth

In 2014, Evonik invested in new production capacities worldwide, further optimized its administrative and cost structure and solidified its sound financial profile," said CEO Klaus Engel. The German group is now "poised for a new phase of profitable growth."

Evonik's financial report saw annual sales 2% higher at €12.9 billion, with volumes up 3% and sales down 1%, translating into organic growth of 2%. Adjusted EBITDA inched forward to €2 billion from €1 billion, and the EBITDA margin remained firm at 14.5%.

Looking ahead to 2015, Engel predicted slightly higher sale and operating profit. Given the strong start to the year, he said he is "optimistic."

Clariant With Higher Growth

Clariant saw above-average growth again in 2014, despite a challenging economic environment, which it said was marked in particular by a continued lack of growth in Europe. The Swiss specialty chemicals group increased sales especially in high-margin markets and further improved profitability," said CEO Hariolf Kottmann.

Sales from continuing operations rose 5% in local currencies to 6.1 billion Swiss francs, but only 1% in Swiss currency. EBITDA before exceptional items from continuing operations totaled 867 million Swiss francs, up 6% in local currencies. The EBITDA margin improved to 14.2%.

For 2015, Kottmann expects continued sales growth, further margin and improvement and a stronger cash flow, "despite an increasingly volatile economic environment."

Lonza Sees Solid Performance

Lonza delivered expected core EBIT growth of 11% in local currencies and 9% in reported currency. The Swiss-based life science industry supplier said its "solid performance" stemmed from initiatives such as imple­mented growth projects, disciplined portfolio management and restructuring. Revenues grew by 3% in local, by 1.6 % in reported cur­rency to 3.6 billion Swiss francs.

Lonza's transformation from a product-focused to a market-driven business progressed well in 2014 and will continue in 2015, said CEO Richard Ridinger.

"Our underlying business performance leads us to be confident we will grow sales and profits in 2015," Ridinger added. However, due to the "recent and unex­pected volatility in financial and currency markets," the company will now re-evaluate its outlook. A qualitative update for Q1 2015 will be published on Apr. 28.

Arkema Impacted by Markets

"In a volatile macro-economic environment with moderate world growth," Arkema's financial performance was impacted by challenging market conditions in fluorogases and acrylics. Nevertheless, "the majority of our product lines performed well, demonstrating their sound positioning in high added value," CEO Thierry Le Hénaff said.

The French chemical producer's sales fell by 1.4% to just under €6 billion.

Volume sales rose 2.3% and prices declined by 2.4%. EBITDA fell back 13% to €784 million, but the EBITDA margin "held up well" at 13.2%.

In 2015, management expects market conditions to remain volatile, with different dynamics in geographic regions and product lines. The euro's slide against the dollar should offset low-cycle unit margins in some businesses, Arkema said.

Solvay Posts "Solid Results"

Belgium's Solvay lifted net sales by 5% to €10.2 billion, with volumes up 3.6% and prices stable. REBITDA (recurring EBITDA) increased by 11% to €1.8 billion. Margins widened to 17.5% of net sales. Adjusted EBIT was up 3.7% to € 761 m.

CEO Jean-Pierre Clamadieu said: "Solvay posted solid results throughout the year, benefiting from its ongoing transformation, its upgraded portfolio and operational delivery. We progressed in reshaping our business profile towards a high-end solutions provider. Robust demand for our innovative products and solutions boosted our growth engines. Excellence measures delivered on all fronts, compensating for a higher cost base and securing our pricing power."

The group is well-positioned to meet its 2016 ambitions, Clamadieu added.

Akzo Nobel Beats Challenges

Last year was challenging one for AkzoNobel, said CEO Ton Büchner, pointing to negative currency effects, a continued lack of growth in Europe and a slowdown in some Asian and Latin American economies. Still, he said, the Dutch chemical producer was able to achieve further improvements in operational performance, which led to a higher return on sales and investment.

Full-year figures show sales revenue down 2% to €14.6 billion, with volume sales up 1% across all business areas. EBITDA was 12% ahead of 2013 at EUR 1.69 billion. In 2015, Büchner said the introduction of several commercial excellence initiatives will help drive organic growth. "We remain on track to deliver on our 2015 targets."

DSM Raises Sales, Earnings

Dutch chemicals and life sciences group DSM reported sales of €9.2 billion, up 4% against 2013. In line with expectations, EBITDA declined by 7% to €€12 billion. The group took an impairment charge of €186 million on its caprolactam business.

CEO Feike Sijbesma said DSM delivered a "relatively solid" EBITDA with good cash flow from operating activities, despite the fact that 2014 was "not an easy year " for the company due to substantial negative exchange rate effects and tough market conditions in Nutrition and caprolactam.

Sijbesma said DSM is "taking steps to address the challenging external environment" and is aiming for EBITDA in 2015 to settle slightly ahead of 2014.

Dow Chemical "Well Positioned"

Dow Chemical reported a 12% rise in adjusted EBITDA $9.34 bn. North America's largest chemical player said its operating profit increased across all business segments, led by Performance Plastics. Group sales revenue saw a 2% gain to $58.2 bn.

Commenting on the outlook for 2015, CEO Andrew Liveris said, "against the backdrop of ongoing macroeconomic, currency and energy market uncertainty, we continue to see positive underlying demand fundamentals." Due to its advantaged global cost positions, Liveris said the group sees itself "well positioned" to increase asset utilization, while selling into higher value sectors. "Tightening supply and demand is acting to offset some of the challenges that are a result of falling oil prices."

DuPont Makes Progress

DuPont delivered operating earnings of $4.01 per share, up from $3.88 per a year earlier. Earnings from continuing operations increased to $3.90 per share from $3.04 per share. Volumes, margins and earnings grew in the majority of segments, the US group said, despite significant market and macroeconomic challenges, including a weaker agriculture economy, a stronger dollar and a difficult market pricing environment.

"Our 2014 results demonstrate continued progress on our strategic plan to deliver higher growth and higher value, including ongoing portfolio refinement and steady progress on

The planned separation of the Performance Chemicals business into a standalone company called Chemours, said CEO Ellen Kullman.