Summary of financial review

Underlying EBIT bridge

Bekaert’s underlying EBIT was € 301 million, reflecting a margin of 7.3%. In terms of organic growth, the main factors preventing us from turning improved volumes into incremental profitability were the adverse mix effect of a fast declining loose abrasive sawing wire business and the time needed to pass on the continuously increasing wire rod prices. The impact of the latter on our margins was at its most severe during the middle part of the year. In the fourth quarter, we were better able to pass on wire rod prices without adversely affecting our sales volumes. 

The incremental cost savings from transformation programs and other measures compensated for the full-year integration of the Bridon activities in the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group at lower than average margins, and the divestment of the high-margin Sumaré business in Brazil.   

Sales and financial review

Bekaert achieved consolidated sales of € 4.1 billion in 2017, an increase of 10.3% compared with last year. Organic volume growth boosted sales by 3.4% and the aggregate effect of passed-on higher wire rod prices and price-mix added +5.5%. The net effect of mergers, acquisitions and divestments was +2.2% while currency movements accounted for -0.9%.  Combined sales  totaled € 4.8 billion for the year, up 10.5% from 2016 due to 7.5% organic growth, a limited net effect of mergers, acquisitions and divestments (+2.8%) and about neutral exchange rate effects.

The Board of Directors confirms its confidence in the strategy and future perspectives of the company and will propose that the General Meeting of Shareholders on 9 May 2018 approve the distribution of a gross dividend of € 1.10 per share, stable from last year. The dividend will, upon approval by the General Meeting of Shareholders, become payable as of 15 May 2018. 

Financial results
Bekaert achieved an operating result (EBIT-Underlying) of € 301 million (versus € 305 million in 2016). This equates to a margin on sales of 7.3% (versus 8.2% in 2016). The one-offs amounted to € 17 million (€ -45 million in 2016) and included the gain on the sale of 55.5% of the shares in the formerly wholly-owned subsidiary in Sumaré (€ +25.8 million) and other items adding up to a net expense of € -8.8 million.

Including these one-offs, EBIT was € 318 million, representing an EBIT margin on sales of 7.8% (versus € 260 million or 7.0%). Underlying EBITDA was € 497 million (12.1% margin) compared with € 513 million (13.8%) and EBITDA reached € 510 million, or an EBITDA margin on sales of 12.4% (versus 13.0%).

Reported selling and administrative expenses increased by € 17 million to € 345 million due to the impact of mergers, acquisitions and divestments (€ 17.8 million) and consulting costs related to transformation programs (€ 7.5 million), effects which were partly offset by overhead cost reductions and the positive impact from currency movements. Research and development expenses amounted to € 63 million, stable from last year. Other operating revenues and expenses mainly reflected the gains on operating cash flow hedges, income from government grants and less impairment losses compared to 2016.

Interest income and expenses amounted to € -87 million, € -14 million higher than last year due to an increase of gross debt and a higher average interest rate. Other financial income and expenses amounted to € -6.4 million (versus € -37.5 million) and included a gain of € 17.7 million on the conversion option related to the convertible bond issued in June 2016 (versus a loss of € -37.4 million in 2016). 

Taxation on profit amounted to € 69 million, compared with € 62 million in 2016. The effective tax rate decreased from 41.6% last year to 30.8% in 2017.
The share in the result of joint ventures and associated companies increased from € 25 million to € 27 million and includes the integration of the Sumaré business into the joint venture partnership from the second half of 2017 onwards.

The result for the period thus totaled € 183 million, compared with € 112 million in 2016. The result attributable to non-controlling interests decreased from € 7 million to € -2 million. After non-controlling interests, the result for the period attributable to the Group was € 185 million, compared with € 105 million last year. Earnings per share amounted to € 3.26, up from € 1.87 in 2016.

Balance sheet
As at 31 December 2017, shareholders’ equity represented 35.6% of total assets, down from 37.1% in 2016. The gearing ratio (net debt to equity) was 72.7% (versus 66.8%).

Net debt was € 1 151 million, down from € 1 230 million as at 30 June 2017 and up from € 1 068 million as at year-end 2016. Net debt on underlying EBITDA was 2.3, compared with 2.1 on 31 December 2016.

Cash flow statement

Cash from operating activities amounted to € 244 million, compared with € 400 million in 2016, due to lower cash generation and the cash-out impact of a higher working capital.

Cash flow attributable to investing activities amounted to € -226 million (versus € -100 million): € -277 million related to substantially higher capital expenditure (intangibles and PP&E) while the net impact of acquisitions and divestments dropped from € 41 million to € 20 million.

Cash flows from financing activities totaled € 47 million (versus € -302 million in 2016). The cash-ins from gross financial debt in 2016 reflected the repayment of a long-term loan offset by the extra cash received from the Convertible Bond Exchange.

Investment update and other information

Net debt increased to € 1 151 million, up from € 1 068 million as at year-end 2016 and down from € 1 230 million as at 30 June 2017. Net debt on underlying EBITDA was 2.3, compared with 2.1. on 31 December 2016. Excluding Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group, net debt on underlying EBITDA was 1.5, below our target of 2.0.

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 € 273 million in 2017 and included major tire cord expansion programs in EMEA and Asia Pacific.
In addition to the 3 885 446 treasury shares held as of 31 December 2016, Bekaert purchased 172 719 own shares in the course of 2017. A total of 403 150 stock options were exercised in 2017 under the Stock Option Plan 2010-2014 and 403 150 treasury shares were used for that purpose. 18 735 treasury shares were transferred in the context of the Personal Shareholding Requirement Plan. As a result, Bekaert held an aggregate 3 636 280 treasury shares as of 31 December 2017.

Segment reports


Bekaert’s activities in EMEA achieved 11% sales growth in 2017, driven by robust organic volume growth (+7%) and the aggregate effect of passed-on wire rod price increases and price mix (+4%). Strong automotive, construction and other industrial markets boosted sales volumes throughout the year, while demand for specialty steel wires was flat compared with 2016. 

Bekaert EMEA delivered solid results in 2017. We repeated the record € 141 million underlying EBIT of last year in absolute numbers. The margin performance was lower due to some delay in passing on wire rod price increases to our customers - particularly in the highly competitive construction markets - and because of additional costs of hiring and training personnel needed for the ongoing expansion programs in Central and Eastern Europe. 

The one-offs amounted to € +3 million and were mainly related to the reversal of impairment losses.

Compared with last year, capital expenditure (PP&E) more than doubled to € 115 million and included, amongst others, major capacity expansions in Romania, Slovakia and Russia.

Bekaert anticipates continued good demand from most markets and increased benefits from the ongoing expansion programs. The steadily increasing oil prices may induce some investment activity in oil markets in the near future.

North America

Bekaert’s activities in North America achieved almost 8% sales growth and a significant improvement in profitability. Passed-on higher wire rod prices and price-mix effects combined with more than 3% volume increase boosted an organic growth of almost 10%. 

Automotive, industrial and specialty steel wire markets performed well in 2017. As anticipated, sales volumes were lower in the last quarter of the year due to the normal seasonality impacts. The adverse effects of a weaker USD in the second half of the year had a significant impact on both sales and profitability, year-on-year.

The transformation programs put in place in the region have had a material impact on the 2017 performance. The combined approach in implementing manufacturing, supply chain and commercial excellence have led to a stronger organization, better segmentation, and increased cost competitiveness. The underlying EBIT increased by 28% to € 33 million at a margin of 6%. The segment also reported a significant increase in EBITDA and ROCE margins compared with the previous reporting periods.

Capital expenditure (PP&E) was € 13 million in North America. 

Latin America

In Latin America, consolidated sales were down 1% from last year. The divestment of the Sumaré entity accounted for -5.5% and the overall weak economic environment in the region drove demand for our products down, resulting in a volume loss of -5.6% for the year.  These effects were almost completely compensated at the top-line by the impact of passed-on higher wire rod prices and slightly positive currency effects.

The segment’s profitability was affected by the deterioration of the business climate in 2017. Underlying EBIT decreased by 18% due to weak market conditions and cost inflation, amongst other due to protective measures against wire rod imports in various countries.  The cancellation of the obligations under an onerous supply contract offset the divestment impact of the high-margin Sumaré entity. The underlying EBIT margin reached 8.2% for the full year. 

EBIT increased by more than 20% to € 80 million as a result of the gain on the sale of 55.5% of the shares of the Sumaré plant in Brazil which has been integrated into the BMB (Belgo Mineira Bekaert Artefatos de Arame Ltda) joint venture partnership with ArcelorMittal.   

Bekaert invested € 22 million in property, plant and equipment across the region, particularly in Chile and Peru.

Bekaert’s combined sales increase reflects the translation impact of a stronger average Brazilian real compared with last year and passed on higher raw material prices. The share in the results of joint ventures increased by 5.5% due to the integration of the Sumaré entity within the joint venture partnership in Brazil.

Asia Pacific

Bekaert delivered 12% organic sales growth in Asia Pacific, driven by good volume growth and a positive aggregate effect of passed-on wire rod price increases and price-mix. Bekaert’s rubber reinforcement activities reported firm growth across the region. 

Several developments hindered us from repeating the outstanding margin performance of last year:
  • The continuous price increases of raw materials hampered an immediate effective pricing response in the fierce competitive environment in China. The impact on our margins was at its most severe during the middle part of the year. In the fourth quarter, we were better able to pass on wire rod prices without adversely affecting our sales volumes.
  • The demand for loose abrasive sawing wire declined sharply due to an acceleration of the technology shift to new generation products.
  • The ongoing expansion programs in the region generated additional costs related to hiring and training personnel.
These elements had an adverse effect on the overall profitability for the region in 2017. Underlying EBIT decreased to € 107 million at a margin of 9.3%, below our 2016 performance.

We have taken actions to upgrade our sawing wire offering so we can play a part in the ongoing technology shift. Bekaert has successfully developed in the course of 2017 a fixed abrasive sawing wire. All key customers have tested and approved the samples and we are investing in production capacity to start serving our customers as of mid-2018.

In anticipation of continued growth perspectives, Bekaert invested € 122 million in PP&E in the region in 2017, more than doubling the investment pace of 2016 and including expansion investments in China, India and Indonesia. In order to better leverage scale, the company also closed two entities that did not have the potential to generate value-creating growth: the Shah Alam plant in Malaysia and the small tire cord plant in Huizhou (China).

We expect the high run rate in our tire markets to continue into 2018. We project improved margin performance in our ongoing businesses by progressively regaining pricing power. We take into account continued low demand for loose abrasive sawing wire in the first half of 2018 and a positive contribution from the launch of fixed abrasive sawing wire as from the second half onwards. 

Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group

Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group (BBRG) achieved 42% sales growth. The integration of the Bridon activities since the end of June 2016, accounted for an increase of 38%. The former Bekaert activities within BBRG delivered 5% organic growth reflecting almost 4% volume increase stemming from double-digit growth in the advanced cords business and a modest volume increase in ropes. 

The advanced cords business activities have performed strongly throughout the year. The steel ropes activities in North America, Australia and Chile gradually reported higher sales volumes on the wave of increased demand in the mining sector. The European and Brazilian entities, which are heavily dependent on oil, reported very weak sales and results throughout the year.

Underlying EBIT was € 15 million at a margin of 3.3%, reflecting the difficult conditions in oil & gas markets and the margin impact of continuous wire rod price increases. The projected recovery of Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group is taking longer than anticipated due to the absence of a rebound in offshore oil & gas activities and the slow reconversion and entry process into more diversified market segments. While the order books are modestly growing, they have an extended delivery window with limited immediate growth effects.

BBRG invested € 15 million in PP&E in 2017, half of which in advanced cords and the other half in steel ropes manufacturing sites worldwide.

The management of Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group is implementing actions to strengthen its market positions and to gradually leverage the benefits of its increased scale. Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group is putting into practice the same transformation tools that have been implemented successfully within Bekaert. These programs will help create a turnaround in cost effectiveness, sales growth and margin capability and should progressively improve the performance of the segment over the coming years.