Comments by the CEO
Lennart Eberleh, CEO and President
Rottneros summarises a strong 2018. The Group continues to deliver good profitability at the same time as the upgrade of our two pulp mills was completed within the investment program Agenda 500. Operating profit (EBIT) for the full year has almost doubled compared to 2017 and amounts to SEK 295m (156).
YEAR-END REPORT JANUARY-DECEMBER 2018
SOLID IMPROVEMENT IN OPERATING PROFIT
Clear performance improvement
Strong demand for the Group's products, a high general market price and a favourable USD exchange rate are the main reasons for the year's results. The pulp price peaked at USD 1,230 / ton and started to fall slightly towards the end of the period.
For the full year 2018, sales increased by 18 per cent and amounted to SEK 2,260m (1,912). EBIT improved strongly despite increased raw material costs.
Earnings per share show an increase of 93 per cent from last year, which is the basis for the Board's proposal to increase the dividend by SEK 0.33 to SEK 0.70 per share.
Also the fourth quarter developed positively, and sales rose by 17 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2017.
This increase, as for the full year, was largely driven by high pulp prices and favourable exchange rates. The raw material situation normalised, and we ended the year with slightly higher inventories than usual to be able to manage possible future disturbances.
However, the fourth quarter is always weaker in terms of earnings due to the annual maintenance shutdown at Vallvik Mill.
The investments in our facilities have led to an increased maximum production capacity and the focus is now on achieving even higher capacity utilisation.
The forest industry has historically been characterised by strong cyclical variations in demand and prices are set on a global level. We are now at the end of a long cyclical upturn where the slowdown is significant, and prices are beginning to fall. However, there are underlying structural trends of sustainability and increased use of renewable materials that support the demand for our products in the future. Nor have any new capacity increases been announced in the pulp industry in the coming years.
Investments over the past four years have totalled close to SEK 900m and the majority relates to upgrades of our mills in Vallvik and Rottneros. The year's total production of 393,600 tonnes is slightly below previous year's volume.
Rottneros Mill set a new annual record, whereas Vallvik Mill was affected by some unplanned interruptions at the beginning of the year. In addition, the annual maintenance shutdown was longer than usual, according to plan.
One goal we set for 2018 was increased profitability through significant improvements in our way of working and those processes that we can influence. Looking back, I note that, despite a turbulent year with many challenges due to not at least unfavourable weather, we have succeeded very well with the task. By taking small steps every day towards a more efficient Rottneros, I see that in 2018 we built a significantly stronger company.
In order to support our core business, we started to work on developing and improving critical internal functions in the Group. Safety, competence enhancement and cooperation with schools to educate future employees are examples of areas where we have focused. We changed our sales organisation in the autumn of 2018 and now use our own sales organisation in Germany; our largest market after the Nordic region. Cooperation with agents and trading houses remains important for sales in the rest of Europe and the world.
The core business continues its structured and systematic work with continuous improvements in all aspects.
Rottneros Packaging has moved into new premises and we see a clear market potential for trays based on renewable raw material. The Lignol project continues and is an important example of how the forest industry can contribute to the fossil-free society.
The results for 2018 are in many ways proof of good teamwork. I feel privileged to lead Rottneros with all competent colleagues who handle change and challenges in a constructive and professional manner. I want to thank all my colleagues who have contributed during the year. I also want to thank our shareholders, customers, suppliers and lenders.