Foreword by the Executive Board
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is no exaggeration to describe last year as eventful, or even turbulent. In the very first weeks of the year the US administration decided to impose anti-dumping tariffs. A few months later these were extended to include steel and aluminum imports. Apart from this there is the still ongoing trade conflict between the US and China which started with punitive tariffs. In Europe discussion was dominated by the possible exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, and, in the automotive area, by the new global harmonized testing procedure for exhaust emissions, WLTP.
In this challenging situation, we were helped by our broad-based portfolio of customers, markets and products. Our business partners know and appreciate this: Thanks to an excellent order-book situation, our business expanded again in 2018, for example as a result of new plants in the markets relevant for us and our customers. The BENTELER Group achieved revenues 2.7% higher than the previous year; growth outpaced the market. This was in parallel with the challenge of increasing production in the shape of new launches and ramp-ups – which incurred costs above plan. In combination with the economic turbulence this led to a lower EBIT.
That applies above all to the Automotive Division: Revenues matched those of the previous year – despite the market declining in the second half of the year – but the result was not in line with our expectations.
The first half-year was positive – above all because of the successful start-up of the module plant in the Polish town of Września and the growth in China, from which our plants in Shenyang and Changshu benefited. The second half-year saw a market-related change in trend: The external factors mentioned above led to a regional slowing in sales; together with the higher costs for the many new product starts, this resulted in a lower EBIT. The markets themselves, however, are intact, which is why we are expecting catch-up effects.
The Steel/Tube Division achieved record revenues. EBIT also rose. In particular capacity utilization of the German plants, due also to high demand in the US for OCTG tubes, had a positive effect; we were able in part to pass on some of the hiked tariffs to our customers. In the second half of the year we made significant progress in the ramp-up of the hot rolling mill in Shreveport, USA: Supported by experienced colleagues from Germany, the US team made good progress in continuing a successful ramp-up. The trend and relevance of the US market makes it very clear that our major investment in the USA was strategically the right step towards a flourishing and diversified future.
The Distribution Division increased both revenues and result (adjusted for a land sale in Switzerland) – and it did this with the same volume of sales as in the previous year. This pleasing trend is based on now higher market prices, consistent operational improvements and rigorous adjustment of the product portfolio.
In 2018 we adjusted our strategic orientation. After years of growth, we are now a leading supplier to the automotive, energy and mechanical engineering sectors. We have over 140 locations in around 40 countries – in other words, everywhere where our customers need us. For this reason we are now placing our focus on balanced growth and increased profitability. In future we will be concentrating even more closely on our core business: As a process specialist we will offer our customers excellent products, processes and services. In addition, we will invest in a targeted way in selected areas that fit with our core competence – for example in the field of electromobility. Or in the themes of the future, such as automation and Industry 4.0, which further increase our efficiency.
What do we expect from 2019? Economic developments around the world show no signs of entering a calmer period; at the same time, again this year we are expecting a significant increase in volumes, thanks to the very good order-book situation. Then, from 2020, we will be moving towards balanced growth. All in all this new year is set to be another challenging one. Nevertheless we are confident that, with the initiatives already started and the measures still in the pipeline, we are well equipped to continue to be successful in the competitive environment. But more than that – we are looking forward, this year also, to developing solutions that make the difference for our customers.
All this would not be possible without the tireless efforts of our employees. On behalf of the Executive Board of BENTELER International AG, and in the name of the Management Boards of the Divisions, we would like to express our sincere thanks to you, the employees. And to our customers for, in some cases, decades of business partnership. We are also grateful to our shareholders for their valuable support. Together we make it happen.
Salzburg, March 2019 │ BENTELER International AG
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Isabel Diaz Rohr
Member of the Executive Board