MUTTENZ, Switzerland - Clariant announced first-quarter sales of CHF 1.945 billion, compared to CHF 1.717 billion in the previous-year period. Sales grew 18 percent in local currencies and 13 percent in Swiss francs, mainly driven by the acquisition of Süd-Chemie. On a like-for-like basis, sales declined two percent in local currencies year-on-year.
The first quarter was a continuation of the trend seen in the fourth quarter of 2011. Sequentially, Catalysis & Energy weakened as it entered its low season, while the seasonally strong businesses like de-icing and refinery had a weak performance due to unfavorable weather conditions. This was compensated by a solid growth in the non-cyclical business units and a pick-up in demand, particularly in Masterbatches, towards the end of the quarter.
In a year-on-year comparison, however, the quarter was weaker due to economic headwinds, an unfavorable currency development and the absence of restocking activities. In this environment, ongoing robust demand was observed in the non-cyclical Additives, Catalysis & Energy, Functional Materials, Industrial & Consumer Specialties, and Oil & Mining Services business units, which contributed around 50 percent to total sales and 60 percent to EBITDA.
Oil & Mining Services achieved the highest growth, with local currency sales up in the 20-percent range. Sales in the other non-cyclical business units grew more moderately. Due to a mild winter in North America and a cold but dry winter in Europe, the seasonal de-icing and refinery businesses recorded low demand. Although seasonally weaker compared to the third and fourth quarter, Catalysis & Energy achieved a very strong order intake above previous years in the first three months, confirming ongoing strength in this business. Business activity in the mature business units Textile Chemicals, Paper Specialties, Leather Services, and Emulsions Detergents & Intermediates remained subdued. All regions showed double-digit growth in local currencies with the exception of Europe, which was heavily impacted by the euro crisis, mainly in southern areas.
The double-digit increase in sales was the result of a 14 percent volume increase and four percent higher sales prices year-on-year. On a comparable basis, i.e. excluding acquisitions, volumes were six percent lower, reflecting both weaker demand in some business units and a deliberate loss of less profitable businesses. Compared to the first quarter 2011, the negative effect from currency movements softened somewhat but still impacted the top-line by five percent.
Clariant confirms its outlook for 2012 with the publication of its full-year figures. Raw material costs are expected to rise in the mid-single-digit range, while exchange rates should remain stable compared to the beginning of the year. In its base case scenario, Clariant expects that after a weak start to 2012, the global economy will strengthen progressively in the course of the year. Therefore, results for the first half-year are expected to be lower compared to the high base of the first half of 2011, with an improvement in the second half-year 2012. For full-year 2012, Clariant expects further sales growth in local currencies and sustained profitability.