Continued recovery in third-quarter 2003 improves initial outlook for 2004

12 November 2003
  • Higher sales in all three core segments of cement, aggregates and ready-mix concrete.
  • Consolidated revenues up 1.1 percent in local currency; in Swiss francs, a 5.4 percent decline due to exchange-rate factors.
  • Operating earnings rise by an impressive 8.1 percent in local currency; in Swiss francs they are more or less unchanged with a decline of 0.6 percent.
  • Consolidated net income after minorities increases by 8.2 percent in local currency and 0.8 percent in Swiss francs.


Holcim Ltd lifted its operating margins in the third quarter of 2003, marking a continuation of the positive trend that has been in place since the start of the year. Additional cost savings enabled substantial progress to be made. The sharp decline in the value of the US dollar, however, had an adverse impact on financial performance in Swiss franc terms.

Volume trend and financial results

Consolidated sales rose in all three core segments compared with the first nine months of 2002. On the cement side, there was growth in volumes across all Group regions. The higher volume of aggregates (gravel and sand) was primarily due to the European Group companies, whereas deliveries of ready-mix concrete improved not just in Europe but also in the Group regions of Latin America and Africa Middle East.

Net sales revenue grew by 1.1 percent in local currency, primarily as a result of the higher delivery volumes. In Swiss franc terms, there was a 5.4 percent currency-related decline to CHF 9,395 million (nine months 2002: 9,928). In local currency, the operating result showed a significant increase of 8.1 percent. Despite adverse exchange rate factors, consolidated operating profit was virtually unchanged at CHF 1,550 million (nine months 2002: 1,559). Consequently, the operating profit margin showed further improvement. This was mainly achieved through cost-cutting measures in the areas of administration and production. Cash flow from operating activities failed to match the previous-year level at CHF 1,527 million (nine months 2002: 1,732); however, it did show significant improvement in relation to the first half of the year. Consolidated net income after minorities showed a rise of 8.2 percent in local currency, and there was also a 0.8 percent increase in Swiss franc terms to CHF 518 million (nine months 2002: 514). These figures underline the impressive overall performance of the business in the third quarter.

European construction sector in recovery mode - German market still facing difficulty

The European construction sector held up well in the third quarter. Construction activity in Southern Europe remained buoyant, while Holcim's markets in the reforming countries of Eastern Europe also exhibited an encouraging performance. Germany and Switzerland were the main exceptions, with recession continuing to plague the construction market in both countries.

In Group region Europe, deliveries in the three segments of cement, aggregates and ready-mix concrete showed a rise in overall terms compared with the first nine months of 2002. It was the Group companies in Southern and Southeast Europe that reported the greatest increase in the volume of sales. At Holcim France Benelux, cement deliveries fell slightly, while sales of aggregates and ready-mix concrete rose. As for the Group companies in Switzerland and southern Germany, there was a decline in deliveries in all three core segments. Holcim Central Europe achieved substantial growth in volumes of ready-mix concrete, but on the cement side felt the effect of increased pressure from imports. Demand was very strong in the growing market of Romania. The commissioning of a new kiln line at the Alesd plant there next year will provide additional production capacity.

Operating profit for Group region Europe dipped by 1.8 percent in local currency, but in Swiss francs rose to CHF 478 million (nine months 2002: 475). The difficult market situation in Germany and Switzerland was the main obstacle to a significant improvement in the operating result. Systematic improvements in efficiency enabled nearly all European Group companies to boost their contribution to operating profit. The strong performance in France, Spain and Italy, and the substantial progress made in Southeast Europe were particularly noteworthy.

Few signs of life in US construction sector despite growth in economic activity

Private dwelling construction is the only part of the US construction industry to have been boosted by tax cuts that came into effect this summer as well as consistently low mortgage rates. There has been scant recovery in other segments. More positively, rising freight rates have squeezed imports of cement, leading to stabilization of price levels, especially along the Mississippi and in the Southeast of the country.

Canadian market conditions continued to be favorable. In the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, St. Lawrence Cement succeeded in equaling the high cement delivery volumes of the previous year. Due to weak demand in the US Northeast market - also important for this Group company - cement sales were down slightly on an overall basis.

The operating result for Group region North America declined by 10.6 percent in local currency. The strength of the Swiss franc meant a 20.4 percent dip in consolidated operating profit to CHF 179 million (nine months 2002: 225). The results of Holcim US proved unsatisfactory. Adverse factors included poorer market conditions in some areas. However, the cost-cutting and efficiency improvement programs embarked upon by the new management at Holcim US has begun to bear fruit. The successful commissioning of the new Holly Hill plant in South Carolina in June this year also made a positive contribution. This facilitated the closure of the old wet line at the same location and marks the conclusion of a further stage in the multi-year renewal program aimed at achieving sustainable strengthening of the company's competitiveness. In financial terms, St. Lawrence Cement was unable to match the high level seen in the first nine months of the prior year; the results achieved are nevertheless pleasing.

Latin America margins show an encouraging picture

Operating efficiency improved once again for Group region Latin America. The financial progress achieved was impressive. The higher demand for building materials in several countries compensated for setbacks elsewhere in the region. Indeed, the cement business line showed a slight increase compared with the first nine months of 2002.

Holcim Apasco in Mexico was able to grow its cement deliveries from the beginning of 2003 despite partially unfavorable weather conditions. In Central America, demand was essentially stable. At Holcim Venezuela, the ongoing political instability led to a fall in domestic sales - one that was only partly offset by rising exports. In an economic environment that remains intact but would benefit from fresh surge, Holcim Brazil was able to lift its sales of ready-mix concrete. On the cement side, however, there was a decline in shipments. Aided by the persistently robust situation in Chile's construction activity, the Chilean Group company once again beat the substantial delivery volumes it achieved in the prior year across all segments. Argentina saw further increases in domestic demand, with Minetti selling significantly more cement.

Well-timed restructuring moves and consistent control over costs enabled Group region Latin America to achieve an impressive 15.5 percent rise in US dollar operating profit. In Swiss franc terms, there was a 1.7 percent currency-related decline in consolidated operating profit to CHF 593 million (nine months 2002: 603).

Higher earnings for Group region Africa Middle East

The Group companies in Morocco and South Africa, but also the businesses in the Indian Ocean, succeeded in exploiting favorable economic conditions. A series of development programs, including the construction of social housing in Casablanca in particular, enabled Holcim Morocco to lift sales in all three core segments. At Alpha in South Africa, cement deliveries were roughly on par with the prior year's level. By contrast, there was an above-average increase in output of ready-mix concrete. Holcim Lebanon suffered from ongoing national political turmoil; sales volumes and financial results were down in relation to the healthy position of the prior year. Egyptian Cement expanded its sales volumes, though its performance was badly affected by the pressure on prices and a slump in the value of the Egyptian pound.

Operating profit for Group region Africa Middle East was up 7.7 percent in local currency terms. In Swiss franc terms, there was a 3.5 percent increase to CHF 208 million (nine months 2002: 201). This reflects the greater financial contributions from the Group companies in South Africa and Morocco.

Group region Asia Pacific is gaining significance

The construction markets in Group region Asia Pacific showed a mixed, yet encouraging overall picture in the first nine months of this year. Although cement demand was satisfactory in Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, there was only a very slight increase in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. A majority of the Group companies nevertheless succeeded in increasing their sales volume. Garadagh Cement in Azerbaijan, Holcim New Zealand, Cement Australia and Holcim Malaysia were strong performers. Higher delivery volumes were also achieved in Vietnam, where production facilities are currently operating at full capacity. Siam City Cement in Thailand and PT Semen Cibinong in Indonesia reported a decline in cement exports, and with domestic demand relatively stable this led to lower overall sales.

Consolidated operating profit for Group region Asia Pacific rose by 38.1 percent in local currency and by 28.0 percent in Swiss francs to CHF 151 million (nine months 2002: 118). This success is primarily due to another improvement in results of the Group companies in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Indonesia.

Strategic moves to strengthen core business

Third quarter 2003 results saw the first-time consolidation of the newly formed Cement Australia Pty Ltd. As market leader on the fifth continent, this company operates several cement plants with an annual production capacity of 3 million tonnes and benefits from optimized vertical integration into the aggregates and ready-mix concrete business.

Following a positive ruling by the competition authorities, Holcim is to acquire southern Germany's Rohrbach Zement & Co KG in the first quarter of 2004, which will then be integrated into the Group. The plant in Dotternhausen has an annual installed capacity of 0.6 million tonnes of cement and a further 0.3 million tonnes of special binding agents. Under the GEOROC brand name, this innovative array of products is already successfully marketed in several European countries in cooperation with Holcim.

To continue driving forward market integration, Holcim intends to bring regional cement capacity in Switzerland and its neighboring countries into line with the longer-term trend. The Geisingen cement plant in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as the small grinding facility at Morbio, southern Switzerland, are to be closed.

Holcim has also decided to accept an acquisition bid of BA Holding AG, Baar, for Switzerland's Eternit AG, based in Niederurnen. The manufacture of fiber cement products is not part of Holcim's core business, though it does constitute an excellent fit with the business portfolio of the new investor Bernhard Alpstaeg. Via the Swisspor group, he has for many years been successful in roofing and façade building material products for insulation, sealing and preservation, both within Switzerland and abroad. Eternit AG, including its production sites in Niederurnen and Payerne, was sold on November 10 and is therefore no longer part of the Group.

These future-oriented transactions, strengthening Holcim's core business and leading to a focused production and distribution network accross Europe, will have a total impact on fourth quarter 2003 results of CHF 40 million.

Higher operating margins expected for 2003

The forecasts made regarding the Group's operating performance in financial year 2003 as a whole remain valid. Holcim anticipates that the Group's operative EBITDA margin will continue to show a positive trend. The company expects operational improvements in Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific to make substantial contributions to a solid set of results. Group region Africa Middle East is also expected to produce a stable flow of revenues. In North America the assumption is that, due to the economic recovery and the new efficient cement plants, Holcim US results will show improvement over forthcoming reporting periods and that this Group region will again make a major contribution to Holcim's success.

Leaving aside exchange-rate factors, the Group expects consolidated operating profit and consolidated net income after minorities to exceed the level of the previous year.

Key Figures
Group Holcim
January - September
  2003 2002 +/-% +/-% local currency
Annual production capacity cement million t 141.1 141.9 1 -0.6  
Sales of cement and clinker million t 70.5 68.0 +3.7  
Sales of aggregates million t 68.9 67.9 +1.5  
Sales of ready-mix concrete million m 3 19.7 18.9 +4.2  
Net sales million CHF 9,395 9,928 -5.4 +1.1
Operating EBITDA million CHF 2,537 2,616 -3.0 +5.2
Operating EBITDA margin % 27.0 26.3    
EBITDA million CHF 2,597 2,719 -4.5 +3.0
EBITDA margin % 27.6 27.4    
Operating profit million CHF 1,550 1,559 -0.6 +8.1
Operating profit margin % 16.5 15.7    
Net income before minority interests million CHF 723 727 -0.6 +7.8
Net income after minority interests million CHF 518 514 +0.8 +8.2
Net income margin % 5.5 5.2    
Cash flow from operating activities million CHF 1,527 1,732 -11.8 -4.9
Cash flow margin % 16.3 17.4    
Net financial debt million CHF 9,144 8,857 1 +3.2 +3.4
Shareholders' equity including interests of minority shareholders million CHF 9,695 9,435 1 +2.8 +3.2
Gearing 2 % 94.3 93.9 1    
Employees   47,889 51,115 1 -6.3  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share CHF 2.65 2.63 +0.8  
Fully diluted earnings per share CHF 2.64 2.62 +0.8  
Cash earnings per share 3 CHF 3.81 3.76 +1.3  
Principal key figures in USD (illustrative) 4          
Net sales million USD 6,908 6,244 +10.6  
Operating EBITDA million USD 1,865 1,645 +13.4  
Operating profit million USD 1,140 981 +16.2  
Net income after minority interests million USD 381 323 +18.0  
Cash flow from operating activities million USD 1,123 1,089 +3.1  
Net financial debt million USD 6,927 6,372 1 +8.7  
Shareholders' equity million USD 7,345 6,788 1 +8.2  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share USD 1.95 1.65 +18.2  
Principal key figures in EUR (illustrative) 4          
Net sales million EUR 6,222 6,754 -7.9  
Operating EBITDA million EUR 1,680 1,780 -5.6  
Operating profit million EUR 1,026 1,061 -3.3  
Net income after minority interests million EUR 343 350 -2.0  
Cash flow from operating activities million EUR 1,011 1,178 -14.2  
Net financial debt million EUR 5,938 6,108 1 -2.8  
Shareholders' equity million EUR 6,295 6,507 1 -3.3  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share EUR 1.75 1.79 -2.2  


1 As of December 31, 2002.
2 Net financial debt divided by shareholders' equity including interests of minority shareholders.
3 Excluding the amortization of goodwill and other intangible assets.
4 Income statement figures translated at average rate; balance sheet figures at year-end rate.
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