Besides IFRS accounts, Bekaert also presents the key underlying business performance parameters of profitability and cash generation, to provide a more consistent and comparable view on the Group’s financial performance. These underlying business performance indicators adjust the IFRS figures for the one-off accounting impacts of restructuring costs, provisions for environmental sanitization programs, asset impairments, M&A related fees, and other such non-recurring items that would distort the analysis of the Group’s underlying Business performance. ‘REBIT’ and ‘REBITDA’ - reflecting the ‘recurring’ or ‘underlying’ business performance - are now named (1) EBIT-Underlying and EBITDA-Underlying respectively. EBIT and EBITDA according to IFRS are referred-to as such or as EBIT-reported and EBITDA-reported when specification adds clarity.
(1) Definitions of financial parameters are described in the Financial Review of this Annual Report.
Bekaert’s underlying EBIT was € 210 million, reflecting a margin of 4.9%. The main factors preventing us from turning improved volumes (contributing € +33 million to underlying EBIT) into incremental profitability were the adverse effect of the sawing wire business decline (decrease of € -30 million versus last year), significant one-time BBRG (€ -14 million) clarifying most of the earnings decline of the segment (down € -22 million from last year), and an aggregate € -36 million reflecting the pass-through effectiveness of increased wire rod prices, inventory valuation effects, and price erosion. The incremental cost savings from transformation programs could not offset the overall cost increases from high start-up costs in plants with expansion programs and inflation. The net effect of divestments (€ -15 million) and adverse currency effects (€ -6 million) added to the underlying EBIT decrease year-on-year.
Bekaert achieved consolidated sales of € 4.3 billion in 2018, an increase of +5.1% compared with last year. The organic volume growth (+2.2%) and the aggregate effect of passed-on higher wire rod prices and price-mix (+6.6%) accounted for an organic sales growth of +8.9%. This was partially offset by the effect of divestments (-1.3%) and adverse currency movements (-2.5%). Combined sales2 totaled € 5.1 billion for the year, up +5.5% from 2017 as a result of strong organic sales growth (+10.3%), adverse currency movements (-4.5%) and a limited effect of divestments (-0.2%).
The Board of Directors will propose to the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of 8 May 2019, a gross dividend of 70 eurocent. In line with the company’s dividend policy, the proposed temporary dividend cut is reflecting the lower earnings and high debt leverage of the company. The dividend will, upon approval by the General Meeting of Shareholders, become payable as of 13 May 2019.
Bekaert achieved an operating result (EBIT-Underlying) of € 210 million (versus € 301 million in 2017). This equates to a margin on sales of 4.9% (versus 7.3% in 2017). The one-offs amounted to € -63 million (€ +17 million in 2017) and included impairment and lay-off costs related to various restructuring programs and plant closures as well as to other asset impairments and write-offs. Including these one-offs, EBIT was € 147 million, representing an EBIT margin on sales of 3.4% (versus € 318 million or 7.8%). Underlying EBITDA was € 426 million (9.9% margin) compared with € 497 million (12.1%) and EBITDA reached € 387 million, or an EBITDA margin on sales of 9.0% (versus 12.4%).
Overhead expenses (underlying) decreased by € -13 million to 9.1% as a percentage of sales (versus 9.9% in 2017). Selling expenses were stable. The administrative expenses decreased by € -13 million (underlying) due to a lower variable remuneration and favorable currency effects. The reported administrative expenses included € -18 million one-off elements related to the closure of the plant in Figline (Italy), other lay-off expenses and various corrective actions in BBRG. The research and development expenses amounted to € 65 million, about stable from last year. Underlying other operating revenues and expenses (€ +16 million versus € +1 million last year) mainly reflected an increase of royalty payments received from the Brazilian joint ventures and the positive impact from pension plan adjustments in Latin America. Reported other operating revenues and expenses (€ +33 million) included the gain on the sale of land and buildings related to the plants closed in Huizhou (China) and Shah Alam (Malaysia).
Interest income and expenses amounted to € -85 million, slightly lower than last year (€ -87 million). The lower interest expenses from the debt refinancing of BBRG were largely offset by increased interests from a higher average gross debt. Other financial income and expenses amounted to € -26 million (versus € -6 million last year) due to the amortized cost impact of the BBRG debt refinancing (including bank charges and fees on the repayment of the previous loans) and fees related to the buy-out of OTPP. Income taxes decreased from € -69 million to € -58 million due to lower profitability in various tax paying entities. As the combination of loss making entities only provided an immaterial tax offset to the tax expense incurred by the combination of profit making entities, the overall effective tax rate was 161%.
The share in the result of joint ventures and associated companies was € +25 million (versus € +27 million last year) due to the significantly weaker Brazilian real (-19.4% compared with the average rate of 2017).
The result for the period thus totaled € 3 million, compared with € 183 million in 2017. The result attributable to non-controlling interests was € -37 million (versus € -2 million) and mainly reflected the net loss representation of BBRG as non-controlling interest until the end of October of 2018. After non-controlling interests, the result for the period attributable to equity holders of Bekaert was € +40 million, compared with € +185 million last year. Earnings per share amounted to € 0.70, down from € +3.26 in 2017.
As at 31 December 2018, shareholders’ equity represented 34.1% of total assets, down from 35.6% in 2017. The gearing ratio (net debt to equity) was 76.0% (versus 72.7%).
Net debt was € 1 153 million, down from € 1 339 million as at 30 June 2018 and unchanged from € 1 151 million as at year-end 2017. Net debt on underlying EBITDA was 2.7, compared with 2.3 on 31 December 2017.
Cash from operating activities amounted to € 244 million, unchanged from € 244 million in 2017, as the lower cash generation was offset by a reduction in cash-outs to fund working capital.
Cash flow attributable to investing activities amounted to € -102 million (versus € -209 million): € -185 million related to substantially lower capital expenditure (intangibles and PP&E) while the net impact of acquisitions and divestments dropped from € 38 million to € 3 million. Proceeds from disposal of property from closed plants in China and Malaysia amounted to € 55 million.
Cash flows from financing activities totaled € -157 million (versus € +30 million in 2017). The major cash-ins from gross financial debt in 2018 as well as the repayments are mainly related to the debt restructuring of BBRG and the refinancing of a € 100 million bond.
Net debt was € 1 153 million at year-end 2018, unchanged from € 1 151 million last year but significantly down from € 1 339 million as at 30 June 2018. Net debt on underlying EBITDA was 2.7, compared with 2.3 last year and 3.1 as at 30 June 2018. The company implemented a series of actions in the second half of 2018 to bring net debt down by € -186 million. The working capital decreased by € -156 million (versus 30 June 2018), mainly driven by successful cash collection actions, the impact of off-balance sheet factoring (€ 73 million of accounts receivable), and more standardized supplier payment terms. The average working capital on sales decreased to 20.4%.
In October 2018, Bekaert completed the refinancing of the outstanding debt incurred by Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group (BBRG). This included: (1) the temporary refinancing through a financial covenant-free bridge loan with a group of banks for a maximum maturity of two years, preceding a permanent long-term funding decision; (2) the repayment of € 294 million to the BBRG lenders’ syndicate; (3) the release of all related security interests; (4) the elimination of the related ring-fenced debt structure; and (5) significantly lower interest charges on the refinanced BBRG debt. The debt of BBRG had been consolidated in Bekaert’s consolidated statements since the establishment of Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group. As a result of this refinancing, all debt of the Bekaert Group is covenant-free.
Bekaert is investing in all continents to expand and upgrade the production capacity to the levels needed. Investments in property, plant and equipment amounted to € 198 million in 2018 and included major tire cord expansion programs in EMEA and Asia Pacific. Bekaert will start a greenfield investment in Quang Ngai Province in the central coastal area of Vietnam. The construction works will start in the course of the 2nd quarter of 2019. The plant will produce rubber reinforcement products and serve customers worldwide.
In addition to the 3 636 280 treasury shares held as of 31 December 2017, Bekaert purchased 352 000 own shares in the course of 2018. A total of 51 200 stock options were exercised in 2018 under Stock Option Plan 2010-2014 and Stock Option Plan 2. 51 200 treasury shares were used for that purpose. 35 048 treasury shares were transferred in the context of the Personal Shareholding Requirement Plan. As a result, Bekaert held an aggregate 3 902 032 treasury shares as of 31 December 2018.
Bekaert’s activities in EMEA achieved +4.8% sales growth in 2018, driven by the aggregate effect of passed-on wire rod price increases and price mix (+6.8%), a small organic volume decline (-0.9%) and the divestment effect of the Solaronics business (-0.9%). Demand from automotive and construction markets was strong throughout the year, while demand for industrial, specialty, and stainless products softened in the second half of the year.
The underlying EBIT was € 114 million at a margin of 8.5%. The margin performance was lower due to higher than anticipated start-up costs in plants with major expansion programs in Central Europe, and increased price pressure in various markets, particularly those where we compete with integrated players.
Reported EBIT dropped to 5.5% as a result of the one-off impact of the closure of the Figline plant in Italy (€-40 million) reflecting the operational losses incurred since the announcement of the closure, the impairment losses of the site’s assets and the expenses accrued for the closure.
Capital expenditure (PP&E) amounted to € 67 million and included, amongst others, capacity expansions in Romania, Slovakia and Russia.
Bekaert’s activities in North America achieved +12% sales growth. The organic sales growth accounted for +16.4% and stemmed from improved volumes (+5.7%) and passed-on higher wire rod prices and other price-mix effects (+10.6%). The adverse currency impact for the year tempered to -4.4% due to the appreciation of the US$ in the last quarter.
Automotive demand remained strong throughout the year. Industrial steel wire and agricultural fencing markets were affected by increased price pressure and by the usual seasonality effects of the second half of the year.
Bekaert’s rubber reinforcement activities in the US recorded solid growth. The margins were, however, affected by supply chain issues caused by the continuous changes in trade policy, including quota restrictions and tariffs.
In other steel wire markets, the average price of domestic wire rod increased about 30% compared with last year. Passing on the full price impact to our customers was not possible as we compete with import flows and integrated players (downstream integrated steel mills) there. The margins were, moreover, affected by continued weak demand in agricultural markets.
Both the underlying and reported EBIT amounted to € 25 million at a margin of 4%.
Capital expenditure (PP&E) was € 18 million in North America.
In Latin America, consolidated sales were up +2.7% from last year.
Passed-on higher wire rod prices and other price-mix enhancements contributed +14.3% to the organic revenue growth. An overall weak economic environment in the region drove demand for our products down, resulting in an organic volume loss of -1.8% for the year. Consolidated sales were adversely impacted by the disposal effect (-6.1%) of the Sumaré integration within the JV partnership with ArcelorMittal since 1 July 2017, and by adverse currency movements (-3.7%).
Excluding the effects of currency, royalties from Brazilian joint ventures, and one-time elements, the underlying EBIT of our operations in Latin America slightly improved, compared with last year. Including all elements, underlying EBIT decreased, mainly because of a lower positive net effect of one-time items in 2018 compared with 2017. Last year’s records included the effect of the cancellation of the obligations under an onerous supply contract (€ +10 million) and the disposal effect of Sumaré (€ +12 million). The one-time element in 2018 regarded a change in a long-term benefit plan in Ecuador (€ +3.7 million). Royalties from the Brazilian joint ventures were higher in 2018, compared with last year (€ +5.4 million), while currency effects on underlying EBIT were € -1.9 million negative, year-on-year.
Including all elements, underlying EBIT decreased to € 43 million, reflecting a margin of 6.2%. Reported EBIT was significantly lower than last year: in 2017 the gain on the sale of 55.5% of the shares of the Sumaré plant in Brazil was included whereas in 2018 we have incurred one-off expenses related to the closure of the Dramix plant in Costa Rica.
Bekaert invested almost € 18 million in property, plant and equipment across the region, particularly in Chile.
Bekaert’s combined sales increase in Latin America (+5.7%) was from strong organic growth (+15.7%), largely offset by the translation impact of currency movements (-9.9%) which was mainly driven by the depreciation of the Brazilian real compared with last year (-19.4% compared with the average rate of 2017).
Bekaert delivered +7.7% organic sales growth in Asia Pacific, driven by good volume growth (+5.7%) and a positive aggregate effect of passed-on wire rod price increases and price-mix (+2%). The robust growth of rubber reinforcement activities across the region was partly offset by weaker volumes in other sectors, among which the sawing wire activities in China and the steel wire activities in Malaysia. Adverse currency effects (-3.1%) drove top line growth down to +4.6%.
Underlying EBIT decreased to € 86 million at a margin of 7.2%. The margin decrease was a result of loss-making sawing wire activities (€ -9 million compared with € +21 million last year), the weak performance of our activities in Malaysia, and high start-up costs related to the expansion program in India. The rubber reinforcement business progressively improved the margin performance in the second half of the year, particularly in China and in India. This trend is visible in the segment’s underlying EBIT of the second half.
Reported EBIT dropped to € 54 million due to the impairment of tangible and intangible assets related to sawing wire in China and the restructuring costs in Ipoh (Malaysia), partly offset by the gain on the sale of land and buildings following the closing of the plants in Huizhou (China) and Shah Alam (Malaysia).
In anticipation of continued growth perspectives, Bekaert invested € 85 million in PP&E in the region in 2018, including expansion investments in China, India and Indonesia.
Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group (BBRG) achieved 5.5% organic sales growth, part of which was compensated by the adverse currency movements (-3.7%) impacting the topline. The organic growth accelerated in the second half of 2018 (+8.4%) compared with limited growth in the first half of the year (+2.7%) and was mainly driven by a positive price-mix evolution.
Underlying EBIT was € -6.9 million for the year due to significant one-time adjustments without cash impact (including pension plan adjustments and obsolete stock write-offs) totaling € -13.7 million. Excluding these adjustments, underlying EBIT would have reached € 6.8 million (€ +1.8 million in the first half of 2018 and € +5 million in the second half).
Reported EBIT was € -20 million and included the impacts of one-off elements related to the restructuring in Brazil (€ -7 million) and other measures to turn around the business (€ -6 million).
BBRG invested € 19 million in PP&E in 2018, about half of which in support of growing the advanced cords facilities in Belgium and China, and the other half in the ropes manufacturing sites worldwide.