UPDATE 1-Aperam sees no improvement this year after weak quarter

Tue Oct 30, 2012 2:12pm EDT

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BRUSSELS, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Stainless steel maker Aperam forecast no improvement in earnings in the last three months of the year after weak prices and the normal summer slowdown led to a fifth consecutive quarterly net loss.

The Luxembourg-based group, which produces in Belgium, France and Brazil, said it shipped 5 percent less in the third quarter than the second and slipped into a loss in Europe due to price pressure and seasonality.

Third-quarter core profit (EBITDA) of $42 million was in line with the average forecast in a Reuters poll, but included a capital gain of $8 million and was still the lowest level in almost two years. Aperam said the number would be similar in the fourth quarter due to the uncertain market.

"For the end of the year, we look positively on the recent base price increases and higher import duties in Brazil, but need to remain cautious as a result of the volatile and uncertain market conditions," Chief Executive Philippe Darmayan said in a statement.

Base prices are those agreed with the customer on a monthly, quarterly or longer basis. Stainless steel sales also include a monthly alloy surcharge based on the average price a month or two before a booking.

Stagnant consumption and cheaper imports from Asia have left Europe with a capacity glut, prompting consolidation such as Outokumpu's takeover of the stainless steel business of ThyssenKrupp earlier this year.

The industry has also suffered from steadily falling nickel prices since the start of 2011, with an early 2012 recovery now wiped out. Distributors stock up when prices rise, and hold off when they fall in the hope of even cheaper prices in the future.

Benchmark nickel prices on the London Metal Exchange fell to a three-year low of $15,250 per tonne at the start of August, rose to $18,920 by early October, but have since sunk to around $16,000.

Aperam, floated by ArcelorMittal early last year, has relied on a cost cutting plan, called the Leadership Journey, which has produced $251 million of annual savings since the start of 2011. It is targeting $350 million by 2013. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Ethan Bilby and Jane Merriman)

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