Feb. 2, 2024 - Stora Enso on Feb. 1 reported fourth quarter and full-year 2023 results.
Stora Enso expects market conditions to remain uncertain in 2024, with ongoing pressure on demand, prices and margins. However, there are some positive signs such as increasing pulp prices, declining global pulp inventories, less customer destocking, and lower inflation and interest rates.
The first quarter is not expected to show a significant market improvement following a historical low fourth quarter in 2023 and a slow recovery. All variable costs continued to ease in the fourth quarter, except for wood, which are expected to follow similar trends also in the first quarter this year. The potential risk of logistical challenges from the Red Sea area could disrupt the flow of goods and increase costs.
The Packaging Materials and Wood Products divisions continue to suffer from low demand, prices and volume. Although demand for Wood Products remains stable, it is weak due to the ongoing continued slowdown in the construction industry. While there has been a slight improvement in demand for Wood Products from Europe, it is mostly driven by customer inventory build-up. Value chain destocking for Packaging Materials is coming to an end during the first half of 2024, which may support a slight recovery especially in the consumer board segment.
In Biomaterials, the pulp market is showing signs of stabilising and inventory levels are normalising. And while new capacity is ramping up in Latin America, downstream demand remains fragile. There are signs of improvement in Europe, while demand in China has weakened slightly due to oversupply and low season. Packaging grades demand is still struggling, while the tissue sector continues to perform solidly.
Packaging Solutions expects a stronger sequential demand in the first half of the year due to the greenhouse season. However, low demand leads to high price and margin pressure due to containerboard price reductions, inflation-driven fixed costs, and overcapacity. The Forest division expects no major changes in outlook from the previous quarter, with wood demand expected to start rising gradually.
During the second half of 2023, Stora Enso implemented significant restructuring measures to enhance its financial performance going forward. These included the closure of sites and production lines, the sale of assets, the adoption of a more decentralised operating model, and a reduction of employees by approximately 1,150. These actions are expected to improve the Group's cost competitiveness and streamline its organisation, leading to a stronger financial performance in the years to come.
Building on last year's cost-saving initiative, Stora Enso will further pursue profit turnaround and cash flow improvements to reduce costs and improve competitiveness. A new profit improvement programme targeting annualised EUR 80 million improvement of the operational EBIT has been initiated. This could lead to a potential reduction of approximately 1,000 employees.
Stora Enso's President and CEO Hans Sohlström comments on the fourth quarter 2023 results:
"In a world being rapidly reshaped, we must adapt, streamline, and develop our business to meet the evolving needs of our customers. We have faced unprecedented market conditions and focus our efforts on what we can control to improve our competitiveness and prepare for an uncertain future.
"Stora Enso's financial performance in the fourth quarter of last year was affected by continued market headwinds. This especially impacted our Packaging and Wood Products businesses. Group sales decreased year-on-year by 24% to 2.2 billion euro, with low demand leading to reduced deliveries and lower sales prices across all divisions, except for the Forest division. This resulted in an operational EBIT of 51 million euro, down from 355 million euro a year ago and with an operational EBIT margin decreasing to 2.3%, down from 12.4%. However, on a sequential basis, the operational EBIT improved with an increase of 30 million euro. The forest valuation increased to 8.7 from 8.3 billion euro which is equivalent to 11 euro per share.
"Our Board is proposing a dividend distribution of 0.10 euro per share, to be paid in April. Additionally, it is proposed that the Board is authorised, at its discretion, to decide on a second instalment of up to 0.20 euro per share. The authorisation would be valid until 31 December 2024. This is lower than last year's dividend. We understand the significance of dividends to our shareholders and have worked to find a solution that aligns with the current circumstances.
"Despite the challenging markets in 2023, I am proud that our teams have taken significant steps to drive competitiveness and improve our current unsatisfactory profitability. We have successfully completed a series of restructuring actions aimed at strengthening our positions in the market, which is expected to increase our operational EBIT by about 110 million euro annually. While this has been accompanied by a decrease in sales of approximately 250 million euro based on 2023 numbers, we believe that this is a necessary step to ensure long-term profitable growth. To achieve this, we have had to make some difficult decisions. We have reduced our workforce by about 1,150 employees. And after the new year, we have announced a plan to permanently close one of our production sites for corrugated board in Sweden due to weakened demand.
"We have focused on the cash flow generation by reducing operating working capital and reviewing our capital expenditure priorities. A significant reduction was achieved towards the end of last year, reducing operating working capital by 650 million euro from the peak in the first quarter in 2023. Our liquidity remains strong at 2.5 billion euro in cash and cash equivalents. Cash flow from operations amounted to 323 million euro in the fourth quarter and 954 million euro for the full-year 2023.
"To remain competitive and drive growth, Stora Enso will launch a profit improvement programme targeting an annualised 80 million euro improvement of our operational EBIT. This could lead to a potential reduction of approximately 1,000 employees. The employee reductions, efficiency improvements and synergy opportunities would impact all divisions and Group functions. The majority of these savings would materialise in 2025. This plan does not include new production site closures. While difficult, it is necessary for the Group's long-term success. We remain committed to ensuring Stora Enso remains a leader in our industry through our strategy to improve profitability and cash flow.
"The long-term value growth of our forest assets and the potential to further monetise our land by developing renewable energy, underpins our future growth potential. Our recent agreement with OX2 on one joint wind power development project on our forest land in Sweden, is a step towards this. Our recent commitment to becoming net zero carbon positive by 2040 and offering 100% regenerative products and solutions by 2050 reflects our long-term ambition for sustainability.
"Despite ongoing market volatility, we see some signs of normalisation and expect a higher operational EBIT in 2024 than in 2023, supported by our cost reduction and growth initiatives.
"We continue our determined work to build a stronger, more competitive, better, and more valuable Stora Enso."
Stora Enso's complete 2023 earnings report can be found on the company's website: www.storaenso.com.
Stora Enso is a leading provider of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials and wooden construction, and one of the largest private forest owners in the world.
SOURCE: Stora Enso
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