Far from signalling a downturn, the dip in sheetfed contracts proved to be a temporary blip that allowed the sheetfed offset division to consolidate strong prior-year growth before returning to business as usual in March.
Shipping schedules resulted in group sales of €309.4m, roughly on a par with the previous year (€311.3m) but a long way off course for meeting the annual target. However, an order backlog of €1,072.1m, 11.2 per cent up on the high previous year figure of €964.1m, will keep KBA’s production plants busy until well into the second half of the year.
Lagging sales also affected earnings, leading to an operating loss of €6.5m (2005: loss €6.2m) and a net loss of €5.3m (2005 €6.8m). The proportional loss per share was 33c (2005: loss of 42c).
However, cash flows from operating activities improved to €57m (€35.8m). A larger volume of customer down payments and a reduction in trade receivables more than compensated for a loss of liquidity caused by a pre-production increase in inventories. The free cash flow swelled to €51.6m (€32.2m).
The group payroll on 31 March totalled 7,951 (7,334). The increase was largely due to the addition of 515 staff following the consolidation of subsidiaries KBA-Grafitec in the Czech Republic, KBA (UK) and KBA-France.
Although domestic demand remained firm, shipping schedules raised the export level in the first quarter to 83.7 per cent (81.7 per cent). Once again, KBA’s biggest market was the rest of Europe, with 53.5 per cent of group sales, followed by Asia and the Pacific with 19.3 per cent. Seasonal fluctuations in shipments of web press pushed down sales in the US and Canada to 7.4 per cent of the total, while Africa and Latin America accounted for 3.5 per cent.
Despite a weak start to the year, KBA stands by its end-of-quarter prognosis for 2006 of a single-digit increase in sales and a substantial improvement in pre-tax earnings compared with 2005 (€25.8m).
Notwithstanding the detrimental consequences of recent tariff agreements in the German metalworking and electrical industries, fierce competition in international markets and spiralling prices for raw materials and energy, management is confident that higher margins for work in progress and new contracts, and the substantial reductions achieved in manufacturing costs and overheads, will work through to the bottom line in the course of the year.