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Sappi announces financial results for fourth quarter and full year

November 14, 2019

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 14, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Commenting on the results, Sappi Chief Executive Officer Steve Binnie said: “An initially strong start to the year was unfortunately offset by weak graphic paper markets and lower dissolving wood pulp prices driven by the ongoing trade wars and slower economic growth in various geographies. Our EBITDA declined by 10% year-on-year due to lower dissolving wood pulp prices and weak graphic paper demand. Our strategy to diversify our product portfolio into higher margin segments continues to deliver positive results.”

“The trend towards paper-based packaging in consumer segments continues, and we experienced stable demand for containerboard in the South African market. The recent projects to increase capacity at each of the DWP mills and convert capacity at Somerset and Maastricht towards packaging boosted sales volumes in each of these segments during the year, and for the quarter delivered improved margins, thereby lessening the impact of weak graphic paper markets.”

Reflecting on the 4th quarter, Binnie indicated: “I am pleased that we were able to generate cash of US$173 million in the quarter thereby ending the year with net debt at US$1,501 million. This was done by tightly managing working capital and postponing discretionary capital expenditure.”

Looking forward, Binnie stated: “Due to the current very weak pricing in the DWP market and with paper markets yet to show signs of a sustained recovery in demand, we expect EBITDA in the first quarter of financial year 2020 to be below that of 2019. Management have taken a number of steps to mitigate the effect that the current uncertain market conditions and low DWP prices are having on the profitability and leverage of the group. These steps include tighter working capital management, the postponement and reduction in capital expenditure. The directors have furthermore concurred with management that it would be prudent to temporarily halt dividends until such time as market conditions improve.”

Financial summary for the quarter and full year

The major factors which influenced the group’s results include:

In particular for the quarter:

Outlook

The markets we operate in are expected to continue to be challenging in the coming year, and profitability is likely to be negatively impacted as a result. DWP pricing in particular will have a significant impact on earnings as this segment is a major contributor to our profits and cash flow generation. We have responded by reducing our capital expenditure both this past year and the next, and other than the 110,000t expansion of Saiccor which is currently underway we have not committed capital to any material project. We have reduced working capital, amended debt covenants, targeted further cost reductions and are evaluating various options regarding our paper machines in Europe in order to lower fixed costs and match capacity to demand.

DWP pricing remains under significant pressure, having declined to historic lows of US$638/ton at the time of writing this report, US$306/ton below that of a year ago. We believe that current pricing is below the cash cost of production for a significant proportion of global supply and is therefore unsustainable over any prolonged period. Underlying demand for DWP is still growing at rates consistent with our long-term forecasts. A recovery in DWP prices is likely to be prompted by a recovery in VSF prices which have been depressed by excess VSF capacity and a weak Chinese textile market.

In the packaging and speciality segment we are making good progress with customer acceptance in both the US and European markets and the ramp-up of volumes continues, aided by the shift from plastic to paper in many packaging categories. However, the slowing South African economy will likely impact domestic demand for containerboard in the coming year.

Global graphic paper markets continue to experience weakness due to a combination of economic factors as well as the ongoing shift towards digital media. Pricing has declined only marginally over the past quarter, and as paper pulp prices in Europe and North America approach those prevalent in China, margins should be maintained.

Capital expenditure in 2020 is expected to decrease to US$460 million as we complete the Saiccor 110kt expansion project and some smaller European pulp mill debottlenecking projects. The payment of the adjusted Matane net acquisition price of approximately US$158m will be made in the first quarter of the financial year, funded via a new term loan.

The full results announcement is available at www.sappi.com

There will be a conference call to which investors are invited. Full details are available at www.sappi.com using the links Investors; Latest financial results

Forward-looking statements

Certain statements in this release that are neither reported financial results nor other historical information, are forward-looking statements, including but not limited to statements that are predictions of or indicate future earnings, savings, synergies, events, trends, plans or objectives. The words “believe”, “anticipate”, “expect”, “intend”, “estimate”, “plan”, “assume”, “positioned”, “will”, “may”, “should”, “risk” and other similar expressions, which are predictions of or indicate future events and future trends and which do not relate to historical matters, identify forward looking statements. In addition, this document includes forward looking statements relating to our potential exposure to various types of market risks, such as interest rate risk, foreign exchange rate risk and commodity price risk. You should not rely on forward looking statements because they involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which are in some cases beyond our control and may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially from anticipated future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward looking statements (and from past results, performance or achievements). Certain factors that may cause such differences include but are not limited to:

We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of these forward-looking statements, whether to reflect new information or future events or circumstances or otherwise.

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SOURCE Sappi Limited