Clariant shares drop as quarterly demand eases in Asia, Europe

ZURICH (Reuters) - Clariant missed fourth quarter profit and sales expectations on Wednesday due to softening demand in Asia and Europe, sending shares in the Swiss specialty chemicals maker lower.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss specialty chemicals company Clariant is seen at the company's headquarters in Pratteln, Switzerland October 29, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

But Chief Financial Officer Patrick Jany said the dip in demand reflected short-term concerns among German and Asian clients in the automotive and electronics industries about U.S.-China trade tensions, rather than a broader global slide.

“We don’t really see it as a significant decrease in demand,” Jany told reporters, adding that there were no plans to shift production from the United States.

“We don’t see a significant long-term downturn,” he said.

Quarterly earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization excluding exceptional items (core EBITDA) fell 2 percent to 253 million Swiss francs ($252 million), missing the average 260 million francs in a Infront Data poll.

Sales slipped 3 percent to 1.63 billion francs, compared to the poll’s 1.7 billion average. Not counting currency fluctuations, sales rose 3 percent.

The company’s shares fell 3.5 percent by 0940 GMT.

Clariant, a quarter-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), proposed a higher dividend of 0.55 francs per share and confirmed its 2021 guidance for above-market growth, higher profitability and stronger cash generation.

It declined to give an outlook for 2019, although Chief Executive Ernesto Occhiello he wanted to “make more money”.

For 2018, net profit rose to 356 million francs from 302 million a year before. Sales rose 4 percent to 6.6 billion francs. Jany called the order trend “stable”.

But some analysts said the 2018 results fell well short of expectations, including surprising currency headwinds.

“Today’s fourth quarter 2018 results are certainly not convincing,” Bank Vontobel wrote. “With the exception of Catalysis, all operating segments were below core EBITDA consensus.”

SABIC secured a 25 percent stake in Clariant last year, ending a dispute between the Swiss company and U.S.-based activist investor White Tale.

The two companies are tightening ties by combining some businesses, a process in which Clariant must eventually make an estimated $1.5 billion payment to SABIC. Talks over the payment were ongoing, Occhiello said.

Clariant is also selling its pigments business and other units, which could fetch $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion, as part of a wider streamlining.

Occhiello, a SABIC manager elevated to Clariant CEO last year, said he was not aware of discontent among shareholders or clients over the large Saudi stake in Clariant, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

“I can only say we have a very good relationship with our anchor shareholder SABIC. We talk to them about the possibility of additional business opportunities, such as building a manufacturing site for our chemicals in Saudi Arabia, and also we are looking at other opportunities,” he said.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields and Edmund Blair