* CEO still sees big drop in sales, earnings
* Reiterates downbeat outlook from November
* ThyssenKrupp says now looking for CFO successor
* Asks for authority at AGM to buy back further shares
(Adds details, share price, comments)
BOCHUM, Germany, Jan 23 (Reuters) - ThyssenKrupp AG (TKAG.DE), shocked by the swiftness and severity of the global economic slump, repeated its view that profits at the German industrial group will be hit hard this fiscal year.
“I have never seen, in my more than 40 years of experience, such a sharp slump as we have seen in the past months,” Chief Executive Ekkehard Schulz told a general shareholders meeting on Friday.
“Both in the way it developed and its severity, the current crisis is a new phenomenon. Nobody foresaw a global downturn on this scale. For me, too, this is a new phenomenon,” he added.
Euro zone industrial new orders plunged more than expected in November from a year earlier, data showed on Thursday, underlining the speed with which the single currency area slid deeper into recession.
ThyssenKrupp, Germany’s biggest steel maker, said as late as Nov. 5 it would not slash steel output only to say 20 days later it would extend the December shutdowns at certain stainless steel units in response to lower demand. [ID:nLP596579] [ID:nLN209890]
Schulz said he would not rule out further output cuts, shortened work hours and job cuts, given the uncertainty on how deep the recession would be and how long it would last.
“Uncertainty and declining orders are affecting many areas of the group. It is safe to say that we face a significant drop in sales and earnings this fiscal year,” he said.
Last month, it said 20,000 workers at its steel business would work shorter hours from February to September and dismissed 2,100 temporary workers.
Around 40 percent of its steel products go to the car sector, which is now grappling with a dramatic slump in sales as recession erodes consumer spending.
The steel industry is taking unprecedented measures to cushion the global economic downturn, which has depressed steel demand and prices sharply over the past six months as carmakers and other customers slashed output.
Global crude steel output tumbled 24.3 percent in December year-on-year, while 2008 output was down 1.2 percent from 2007, World Steel said on Thursday.
Output in Germany alone, the world’s seventh-biggest steel producer, fell 35 percent in December.
In spite of the recession, ThyssenKrupp said it would continue to look at acquisitions as well as dispose of non-core operations.
It said it had also asked shareholders for authority to buy back up to 10 percent of its shares in the period to July 2010, replacing an existing buy-back which expires in July this year.
The bought back shares could be cancelled, sold or used for any acquisition, the meeting’s agenda said.
Chief Financial Officer Ulrich Middelmann said the bought back shares would partly be used for “strategic steps” although he added that “concrete plans do not exist” right now.
Supervisory board chairman Gerhard Cromme confirmed media reports that a successor to Middelmann, whose contract ends next year, is being sought, but refused comment on a report that Continental AG (CONG.DE) Chief Financial Officer Alan Hippe has already been chosen.
ThyssenKrupp shares were down 1.8 percent at 1502 GMT, in line with a 1.8 percent drop in the German blue-chip index .GDAXI.
Reporting by Marilyn Gerlach; editing by Simon Jessop