Third-quarter 2004: Holcim on track for success - the positive margin trend is unbroken

3 November 2004
  • Sales increase in all regions and segments of the Group.
  • Consolidated net sales up 6.6 percent to CHF 10.017 billion.
  • Operating profit rises by 15.3 percent to CHF 1.787 billion.
  • Operating EBITDA margin reaches 27.9 percent (nine months 2003: 27.0).
  • Consolidated net income after minority interests jumps 33.4 percent to CHF 691 million.
  • Cash flow from operating activities increases by 9.3 percent to CHF 1.669 billion.


Third quarter sees further improvement in results
The Group turned in a very strong performance in the third quarter of 2004, continuing the positive trend which began mid-2003. Both operating results and margins witnessed further improvements despite the significant increase in pressure on costs in the wake of rising energy prices. The devaluation of the US dollar and other important currencies to the Group also depressed results in Swiss francs. These effects were, however, more than offset by robust internal growth.

Consolidated deliveries rose in all three segments compared with the first nine months of 2003. All Group regions contributed to this gratifying volume development, underscoring the regionally balanced overall growth of the Group. European Group companies recorded the strongest growth rates in cement. Higher sales of aggregates are attributable in the main to Group companies in Canada and Spain. Ready-mix concrete sales improved above all in Latin America and Group regions Africa Middle East and Asia Pacific.

Net sales rose by 6.6 percent to CHF 10,017 million (nine months 2003: 9,395). Consolidated operating profit grew by a striking 15.3 percent to CHF 1,787 million (nine months 2003: 1,550). As a consequence, operating profit margin showed further improvement, widening to 17.8 percent (nine months 2003: 16.5). The main drivers are improved capacity utilization and further cost-cutting measures in the areas of sales, administration and production. Cash flow from operating activities increased by 9.3 percent to CHF 1,669 million (nine months 2003: 1,527). Consolidated net income after minority interests rose 33.4 percent to CHF 691 million (nine months 2003: 518). These results highlight a consistently solid performance by Holcim.

European construction industry remains on growth path
Europe's economy made further headway in the third quarter. With the exception of Germany, building activity was generally strong, especially in Spain and Italy. The markets in Southeast Europe also developed well.

Consolidated deliveries in Group region Europe increased across all segments compared with the first nine months of 2003. In Western Europe, higher cement sales were mostly seen by the Spanish Group company. Deliveries by the North German Group company were stable on slightly improved prices. Sales volumes in Switzerland were bolstered by major public-sector projects and private residential construction.

In region Central and Southeast Europe, the strongest growth surge was seen in Romania and Bulgaria. Integration of the Pleven cement plant (Northern Bulgaria), acquired in May, progressed well. During the review period, production facilities at the Romanian Turda plant were successfully converted to manufacture white cement for special construction applications.

With operations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, Holcim Eastern Europe felt added pressure from German cement imports as well as neighboring countries to the east. Stronger vertical integration translated into significant volume increases of aggregates and ready-mix concrete sold. The successful commissioning of an environmentally sound and economically efficient new kiln line at the Rohožník plant near Bratislava underpins efforts by Holcim to gear capacity in the region to anticipated growth.

Sales at Alpha Cement in Russia continued to be bolstered by the building boom in the Greater Moscow region. The Volsk plant also expanded cement deliveries to sister company Garadagh Cement, enabling Holcim to optimize the supply to customers in Azerbaijan at stable price levels.

Operating profit for Group region Europe grew by 18.8 percent in local currency and in Swiss francs rose to CHF 577 million (nine months 2003: 478). Almost all European Group companies have improved their operating results. Strong performances were recorded in Spain, France and Italy, and substantial progress was made in Southeast Europe. In addition, Holcim Germany showed a moderate positive cash flow.

The establishment of Holcim Béton (Belgique) S.A. and the dissolution of the Inter-Béton S.A. joint venture has brought the Belgian ready-mix concrete operations a strengthened sales network and improved customer relations. To maintain competitiveness, a major restructuring program for the Obourg cement plant in Belgium was decided in September.

Robust cement demand continues in North America
The dynamic growth of North America's building sector continued. The US cement industry in particular was operating close to capacity limits. Despite massive increases in freight rates, cement import levels remained high. The main drivers of demand were private residential construction, the expansion and modernization of transport infrastructure and growth in commercial building. Mounting demand for building materials occasionally exceeded supply, causing cement shortages in a few markets. In Canada, the situation in the construction sector was pleasing.

Against this positive backdrop, North American Group companies have seen a continuous growth in consolidated sales since the beginning of the year. Holcim US reported higher sales volumes in all market regions, and St. Lawrence Cement partly increased deliveries to its markets in the US Northeast and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

With both Group companies making considerable headway on the back of sound construction activity, Group region North America well surpassed the level seen in the first nine months of 2003. In local currency, the operating result increased by 41.9 percent. Despite unfavorable exchange rate movements, in Swiss franc terms this converted to an increase of 35.2 percent to CHF 242 million (nine months 2003: 179). Higher volumes and better prices contributed to improvements in results. Group region North America was also positively impacted by further optimization of cost structures, namely in Holcim US. Higher plant efficiency - due to a long-term renewal and expansion program - helped mitigate rising energy costs.

Solid results in Latin America

Group region Latin America turned in a generally good performance, again producing remarkable financial results. Third quarter cement demand was sound in most countries served by the Group. Construction markets in Brazil and Chile also gathered momentum following a slide in demand in the first half. Consolidated sales in Group region Latin America have increased in all three segments since the start of the year.

Holcim Apasco in Mexico lifted sales of cement as well as shipments of aggregates and ready-mix concrete in the first nine months. Group companies in Central America also sold more cement. In October, a new kiln line was successfully commissioned at the Cartago plant in Costa Rica. Satisfying all environmental requirements, this highly efficient new facility is designed to meet rising regional demand.

Against a politically and economically more stable backdrop, Holcim Venezuela profited from the upsurge seen in the domestic construction industry. Robust market development in Ecuador led to volume increases across all segments for the local Group company. The Brazilian building sector showed signs of recovery in the third quarter, enabling Holcim Brazil to offset some of the volume decrease suffered since the start of the year. Cemento Polpaico in Chile also recorded firmer cement sales, while sales of aggregates and ready-mix concrete were both up on prior-year levels. With building activity still solid in Argentina, Minetti again achieved a strong increase in cement sales.

Consolidated operating profit in Latin America contracted in Swiss francs by 5.7 percent to CHF 559 million (nine months 2003: 593) owing to a weaker US dollar. In USD terms, Group region Latin America's operating result outperformed the prior-year figure by 1.5 percent . This is remarkable as competition in Mexico and Brazil intensified due to new production plants coming on stream. A number of countries also faced higher costs, especially for electricity. The good result confirms that early steps taken to improve efficiency are being felt.

Group region Africa Middle East gains further in significance
Although growth momentum varied regionally, Group region Africa Middle East posted solid results. All Group companies succeeded in increasing cement deliveries, and sales of aggregates and ready-mix concrete were higher in almost all markets supplied by Holcim.

Holcim Morocco again reported impressive growth rates owing to strong demand, despite administrative delays temporarily slowing expansion work on the regional transport network. Deliveries by the Egyptian Group company and Holcim Lebanon were mainly supported by an increase in export orders. The substantial volume growth posted by Holcim South Africa - especially in the aggregates and ready-mix concrete segments - was driven by continued strong construction activity.

Operating profit for Group region Africa Middle East was up 29.2 percent in local currency terms, translating to an increase of 29.3 percent to CHF 269 million (nine months 2003: 208). Holcim Morocco was the region's only Group company to see a decline in its operating result compared with the prior-year figure. The increase of a special tax on cement could not be passed on in sales prices and was only partly offset by cost-cutting measures. All other Group companies improved their financial results, most significantly in Egypt, Lebanon and South Africa.

Further volume increases in Group region Asia Pacific
Demand for cement picked up in the third quarter in almost all construction markets in Group region Asia Pacific. Sales were down in Bangladesh alone, as a result of weather-related factors. The generally positive markets were mainly due to housing construction as well as accelerated expansion of transport and utility infrastructure. Stronger exports also helped to bolster consolidated deliveries of Holcim to clearly exceed the first nine months 2003 figure.

The greatest volume increases were posted in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. While domestic sales increased, Group companies in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand also benefited from higher cement exports.

In the third quarter, Siam City Cement concluded recommissioning work of two temporarily mothballed kiln lines. The additional output will enable the company to match domestic market growth while also continuing to fulfill important export contracts. In Vietnam, the new grinding plant - complete with ship unloading facility on Thi Vai River in Ho Chi Minh City's industrial belt - will start production towards the end of the year. Its additional annual capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of cement will help cover rising demand in the south.

Consolidated operating profit for Group region Asia Pacific rose by 27.1 percent in local currency and by 23.8 percent in Swiss francs to CHF 187 million (nine months 2003: 151). The improved results are primarily due to higher profit contributions from the Group companies in the Philippines, Thailand and New Zealand.
In the reporting period, Philippine-based Cemco Holdings, in which Holcim holds a substantial stake, acquired Union Cement Holdings shares held directly and indirectly by the Phinma Group. This was the final step in a complex transaction related to the merger of Union Cement with Alsons Cement. Through this last step Holcim's economic share in Union Cement increased to around two-thirds.

Outlook remains favorable
Holcim is anticipating substantially stronger results on the back of operating progress in Europe as well as in the improved North American market environment. Group region Latin America will again produce a robust performance, and Group regions Africa Middle East and Asia Pacific are expected to achieve some remarkable results.

The Board of Directors and the Executive Committee expect the annual forecast of 8 percent internal growth on operating profit level to be clearly exceeded. The positive development in the Group' s EBITDA margin is likely to continue.

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Holcim is one of the world's leading suppliers of cement, as well as aggregates (gravel and sand), concrete and construction-related services. The Group has majority and minority interests in more than 70 countries on all continents.
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Key figures

Group Holcim nine months   2004 2003 +/-% +/-% local currency
Annual cement production capacity million t 145.9 145.2 1 +0.5  
Sales of cement and clinker million t 77.3 70.5 +9.6  
Sales of aggregates million t 78.5 68.9 +13.9  
Sales of ready-mix concrete million m 3 21.9 19.7 +11.2  
Net sales million CHF 10,017 9,395 +6.6 +8.8
Operating EBITDA million CHF 2,792 2,537 +10.1 +13.1
Operating EBITDA margin % 27.9 27.0    
EBITDA million CHF 2,820 2,597 +8.6 +11.7
Operating profit million CHF 1,787 1,550 +15.3 +18.6
Operating profit margin % 17.8 16.5    
Net income before minority interests million CHF 877 723 +21.3 +26.0
Net income after minority interests million CHF 691 518 +33.4 +39.1
Net income margin % 6.9 5.5    
Cash flow from operating activities million CHF 1,669 1,527 +9.3 +11.8
Cash flow margin % 16.7 16.3    
Net financial debt million CHF 7,726 8,299 1 -6.9 -7.3
Shareholders' equity including interests of minority shareholders million CHF 10,891 9,499 1 +14.7 +13.4
Gearing 2 % 70.9 87.4 1    
Personnel 30.9. 48,368 48,220 1 +0.3  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share CHF 3.33 2.65 +25.7 +31.1
Earnings per share (fully diluted) CHF 3.30 2.64 +25.0 +30.0
Cash earnings per share 3 CHF 4.51 3.81 +18.4 +22.4


Principal key figures in USD (illustrative) 4          
Net sales million USD 7,887 6,908 +14.2  
Operating EBITDA million USD 2,198 1,865 +17.9  
Operating profit million USD 1,407 1,140 +23.4  
Net income after minority interests million USD 544 381 +42.8  
Cash flow from operating activities million USD 1,314 1,123 +17.0  
Net financial debt million USD 6,132 6,693 1 -8.4  
Shareholders' equity million USD 8,644 7,660 1 +12.8  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share USD 2.62 1.95 +34.4  


Principal key figures in EUR (illustrative) 4          
Net sales million EUR 6,463 6,222 +3.9  
Operating EBITDA million EUR 1,801 1,680 +7.2  
Operating profit million EUR 1,153 1,026 +12.4  
Net income after minority interests million EUR 446 343 +30.0  
Cash flow from operating activities million EUR 1,077 1,011 +6.5  
Net financial debt million EUR 4,985 5,320 1 -6.3  
Shareholders' equity million EUR 7,026 6,089 1 +15.4  
Earnings per dividend-bearing share EUR 2.15 1.75 +22.9  

1 As of December 31, 2003.
2 Net financial debt divided by shareholders' equity including interests of minority shareholders.
3 Excludes 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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