KBA’s third quarter results showed a big jump in sales to North America, with an increasing volume generated by the Rapida sheetfed offset presses KBA promoted at September’s Print 05 trade fair in Chicago.
Higher prices for raw materials and energy were more than balanced by a larger volume of shipments, healthier profit margins on goods shipped, and the cost savings achieved by restructuring web press production plants and negotiating more flexible working hours. Inventories swelled in preparation for a substantial increase in turnover in the fourth quarter.
Cash flows from operating activities also swelled, to €76.5m (2004: -€10.3m). This was mainly due to higher earnings, a smaller volume of accounts receivable and higher advance payments. The free cash flow improved to €58.2m (2004: -€45.9m). Funds rose by €12.1m to €58.2m.
The consolidation of two subsidiaries, Bauer+Kunzi in Germany (55 employees) and KBA-Grafitec in the Czech Republic (429 employees), increased the group payroll to 7,866 at the end of the third quarter, 506 more than at the same time the previous year (7,360). Excluding these additions the total staff count rose by 22. While the number of employees at KBA’s web press facilities in Germany fell by 132, its sheetfed facility took on an extra 122 to support organic growth.
Both divisions posted dynamic growth rates, despite intense competition in the market for multi-unit web presses, and the fact that sheetfed earnings were hit by the cost of establishing a broad range of new products on the market, by higher material and energy costs, and by continuing downward pressure on the prices of new presses, which also affected sales of second-hand machinery.
New orders for sheetfed offset presses were up 15.8 per cent at €661.8m (2004: €571.6m), with gains in virtually every market worldwide. Sales jumped 21 per cent to €561.4m, from €464m the previous year, largely driven by the medium- and superlarge-format presses launched at the Drupa international trade fair in 2004. The €400.2m order backlog was 9 per cent higher than at the same time last year and will keep KBA’s production plant near Dresden busy for the next six months.
Investment activities in the newspaper industry, one of KBA’s key markets, are picking up following a downturn in recent years, and this was reflected at the IfraExpo trade fair in Leipzig in October.
Brisk demand for commercial and security presses as well as newspaper presses drove the volume of new orders for web and special presses up by 38.3 per cent to €648.1m, from €468.5m in 2004, while increased shipments boosted sales by 13.6 per cent to €545.9m (2004: €480.5m). The order backlog grew by 18.8 per cent to €695.4m, safeguarding production until well into the coming year.
Domestic demand also picked up, enabling KBA to post a 46.9 per cent jump in sales to €219.4m. As a result the proportion of exports eased back to 80.2 per cent (2004: 84.2 per cent), though they remained the prime engine of growth. Sales increased in all major markets. The rest of Europe defended its lead with 45.8 per cent of total sales, followed by Asia and the Pacific (14.3 per cent) and North America (13.9 per cent). Combined sales to Africa and Latin America came to 6.2 per cent of the total.
International demand for printing presses has stabilised at a high level, and the weakening of the euro has substantially enhanced the competitiveness of German exporters in dollar-denominated markets. Nonetheless, the pricing pressures that have emerged over the past five years remain an ongoing issue.
Some of the few globally active manufacturers expanded capacity during the upturn and have since increased this further through efficiency gains or new investment. These have now been joined in the marketplace by new competitors from emerging economies like China and India, who are using price to boost sales of technologically less sophisticated products. It is therefore safe to assume that competition will only intensify.
KBA responded with cost-cutting measures, the acquisition of profitable niche specialists, expansion into less volatile markets like packaging and security printing, and an extensive upgrade of a product range that is already the broadest and most advanced in the industry. Management is therefore confident that the group is well positioned to maintain long-term growth in a fiercely competitive global arena.