The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Swiss Steel must increase capital after huge loss

The steel group Swiss Steel has had another disastrous year. The Central Swiss company made a huge loss on the bottom line, which has caused its equity to plummet. Swiss Steel now has to increase its capital.

Overall, Switzerland's only steel producer suffered a net loss of 294.8 million euros after a mini profit of 9.4 million euros a year earlier. The year 2023 was disappointing, explained Group CEO Frank Koch in a conference call on Thursday.

The Group is simply not emerging from the crisis: in three of the last five years, Swiss Steel has accumulated a combined loss of CHF 1.13 billion. This contrasts with a meagre CHF 59 million profit in 2021 and 2022.

Weak demand

Demand for Swiss Steel's products dipped once again: sales volumes fell by 17.3% to 1,375 kilotons in 2023. Orders from the automotive industry and the plant and mechanical engineering sector were weak, said Koch. The Swiss Steel plants were underutilized, which is why they were producing losses.

Turnover fell by almost a fifth to 3.2 billion euros in 2023. In operational terms, the Group posted an adjusted loss before depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 40.9 million euros. In the previous year, Swiss Steel had still achieved a profit of 217 million euros.

Now the shareholders are being tapped: Because the hefty consolidated loss of 294.8 million euros has caused equity to plummet. "As a result, the equity ratio fell to an unsustainable 12.1 percent," explained CFO Marco Portmann. A year earlier, the equity ratio had been 22.2 percent.

Capital increase of 300 million euros

The hole is now to be plugged with a capital increase of at least 300 million euros. This is secured by major shareholder Martin Haefner and his company Bigpoint, which according to the latest information holds 32.73 percent of Swiss Steel. In a statement, Haefner expressed his conviction in the future viability of Swiss Steel's business model.

Whether major shareholder Peter Spuhler and his PCS (20.36 percent) will also participate in the capital increase remains to be seen: "PCS Holding AG and Peter Spuhler are currently unable to comment on this," the industrialist explained in a press release.

The capital increase is to be approved by shareholders at an Extraordinary General Meeting on April 4. The shares held by the main shareholders are likely to increase as a result of the capital increase. As a result, Bigpoint runs the risk of exceeding the threshold of one third of the shares and having to submit a takeover bid for all shareholders in accordance with the law.

Haefner wants to prevent this and has therefore applied to the Swiss Takeover Board (TOB) for an opting-out clause. This has now been approved.

Driving restructuring forward

At the same time, Swiss Steel is pressing ahead with its own restructuring. Seven sales companies in Eastern Europe have been sold, as have the sales unit in Chile and the Group's stake in the Chinese joint venture Shanghai Xinzhen Precision Metalwork.

The sale of parts of Ascometal France announced last December has not yet taken place, as the parties involved are still discussing options and have not yet reached a final agreement, Swiss Steel added.

At the same time, Ascometal France Holding continues to examine all strategic options for the future of all its entities. "In the current very difficult circumstances, this may result in a judicial reorganization of all or part of the Ascometal France companies." The sale of Finkl Steel is also being examined, it said.

1000 jobs less

In addition, the largest production unit, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke (DEW), was reorganized and split into two legally separate production units. 350 jobs were cut. Over 130 million euros in costs are to be saved by 2025. In total, the steel group has reduced its workforce by over 1000 jobs to 8812 employees. The sale of companies in Eastern Europe also contributed to this.

And that is not the end of the story: Group CEO Koch still sees potential for further job cuts. This will primarily take place in administrative functions. Koch did not provide any details on the extent: "This is the subject of ongoing discussions."

©Keystone/SDA

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