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Covestro AG (CVVTF) CEO Markus Steilemann on Q4 2021 Results – Earnings Call Transcript

Mar. 01, 2022 3:32 PM ETCovestro AG (CVVTF), COVTY

Covestro AG (OTCPK:CVVTF) Q4 2021 Earnings Conference Call March 1, 2022 9:30 AM ET

Corporate Participants

Ronald Köhler – Head of Investor Relations

Markus Steilemann – Chief Executive Officer

Thomas Toepfer – Chief Financial Officer

Markus Steilemann

Thanks a lot, Ronald and very good afternoon and/or good morning to everybody on the call.

In the full year 2021, our earnings performance was well above previous year level as the 2020 results as you are well aware, we were heavily impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. The demand rebound resulted in a 10% core volume growth in last year and earnings remained on high levels through the entire year 2021.

We delivered €3.1 billion EBITDA and a free operating cash flow of €1.4 billion. And I think that qualifies 2021 as a strong financial year for Covestro. We want our shareholders to participate in our financial success and therefore yesterday we announced a new share buyback program of €500 million over the next two years. We also continue our ambition to pay out an attractive dividend and propose a dividend of €3.40 per share. How do our 2021 results compared to our past promises? Let’s turn to the next page.

We achieved all our financial targets set for the year 2021. As I said core volume growth of 10% included the volumes from the acquired RFM business and came in at the lower end of the guided range. We also saw strong demand and also limited product availability accompanied us and our customers throughout the year. Free operating cash flow of exactly €1.429 billion came in at the lower end of the latest guided range yet above the upper-end of the initial range. While earnings and cash flow outlook improved during the course of the year, cash was increasingly absorbed by working capital reflecting the outstanding price inflation especially during the second half.

We generated €3.085 million of EBITDA and a 19.5% return on capital employed well above our initial guidance and close to the center of the latest guidance corridors. While delivering on target on the financial side, I’m excited to announce today new targets on the non-financial climate related side. Covestro has a tradition and a track record of pioneering sustainability in the polymer industry. I’m convinced shareholders of Covestro will also in future benefit from both leadership and sustainability and profitable growth. Let’s take a look at our new targets in more detail.

Thomas Toepfer

Yes, thank you, Markus, and also a very warm welcome from my side to our call.

So if you go to Page eight of the presentation, you can see our core volume growth of 10% in the financial year 2021. And that reflect the volume rebound and the consolidation of RFM. Just to remind you, RFM contributed six percentage points. But I would also like to remind you that at the same time, we were constrained by product availability. And you can see the volume development by our key industries in the box on the right-hand side in the order of kilotons sold.

So first of all wooden furniture came in at minus 4%. We saw solid demand. However, we were constrained in terms of TDI and polyols availability. Construction, we came in at plus 1%, again, solid demand, however, constrained and MDI and polycarbonate availability. And number three, the auto and transportation industry plus 10%. So very strong year-on-year growth globally. And I would like to remind you that the global auto industry grew by only 2% year-on-year.

So we outgrew the industry by eight percentage points. And that, for me is another indication that we are delivering in the high growth part of that industry, specifically electric vehicles.

Markus Steilemann

Positively, we anticipate that the supply demand balance for product groups MDI and TDI will further improve as announced supply additions are below expected demand growth. Let’s turn to the next page.

Christian Faitz

Yes. Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon, Markus, Thomas and Ronald. Two questions, if I may. First one, I know your sales exposure into Russia and the Ukraine is rather limited. Yet looking at some of your major customer says exposures in these regions. I am thinking of IKEA and [indiscernible] adhesives. What you see is those sales into these Metro customers being impacted? And can you give us an idea of how impacted those would be?

And then, second question, is it still your plan to come to a decision where to build the new and the AI plans by the middle of this year? Thank you.

Markus Steilemann

Yes, Christian, great to hear from you. And let me answer the following way. For sure, we’re looking into individual customers that have exposure to Russia. And for sure, we also looking, let’s say into specific industries that have exposure into Russia. But currently, it is way too early to really speculate or start speculating about how that from a macro perspective and also from an overall industry perspective would impact our own sales. Because there’s so many influencing factors that is really currently difficult to predict. One thing that I would like to make sure is you’re going to stand. We have numerous assumptions from a macro perspective, but also numerous assumption from individual industry perspectives. And so, if some of those aspects are maybe not exactly in the order of magnitude, as we currently expect it today, we do see very limited to maybe even no impact on our, for example, current guidance for the year, for sure, if there would be massive influence, for example, global GDP would go massively down, maybe even half or even go with that that would have an impact. But it is way too early to say that. And that’s why we also factoring in what we currently can see. And that is also what you see reflected in the current guidance. So I hope that answers the first part of your question.

And in that context, you also have to see that Russia is only representing 2% of global GDP. Therefore, a spill over a let’s say effect should be at least from today’s perspective, limited. I know that there’s different scenarios out there but we’re closely monitoring the situation. And but today, honestly speaking, this is the position we have and this is also what we today can say to this.

On MDI, we have always been clear that we will come to the decision end of third quarter beginning of fourth quarter so that means after the summer holiday, you will hear more about that.

Mubasher Chaudhry

First is on the guidance, can you please talk about some of the moving parts which get you from the bottom end of the guidance of 2.5 billion to 3 billion range, thoughts around there? And then second one on industry utilizations? Can you provide some thoughts on the MDI TDI utilizations in 2021? And where you see them going for 2022, please? Thank you.

Thomas Toepfer

This is Thomas. The sound quality was a little bit poor. So I’m trying to answer the first question. If it’s not spot on, please let me know. And then I will try to repeat it. So what I understood, your question, what would bring us to the bottom end and the top end of the guidance. So I think there’s two major factors. One is you should of course know that we’re assuming a growth factor for 2022. So a mid to high single digit number growth, that is factoring in the assumption that we will have lower unplanned shutdowns than we had in 2021. And that we will simply have a higher uptime for our own plants.

And secondly, on the negative side, it is assuming essentially a negative pricing delta of 1 billion, because we do see that there is, especially in Asia, a new capacity for polycarbonate coming to the market. And we’re already now seeing some pricing pressure on for polycarbonate in that region. So now, how exactly that will play out is, of course, the big question. But therefore, the lower end of the guidance simply assumes that we will again, have some unplanned shutdowns and therefore not deliver the full growth potential. So rather in the mid-single digit range.

And the other factor and every percentage point of growth is some 80 million of EBITDA just to give you the order of magnitude. And the other, of course, is the pricing Delta, we do think that a billion is a reasonable number. And you can see that the pricing, the mark-to-market today stands at 3.3. So that also shows you the order of magnitude that we have factored in. But of course, things can move quickly. However, I would also like to be a little bit more caught up here, we currently do see that Q1 is on about very good track, and the fact that we’re guiding between 750 million to 850 million, so above previous year, is maybe proof point to that.

So I think those are the factors, the swing factors between the lower and the upper end of the guidance for EBITDA.

Markus Steilemann

Yes, and thanks, Thomas. Also here if you would like to have a bit more flavor, let’s say on the individual product groups, MDI TDI, polycarbonate as well as our standard polyols. Let’s take a look at MDI first. So we actually assume that based on nameplate capacity last year, we had an industry utilization of around 90% for the full year. And we expect given the continued demand, but also the continued, let’s say, supply additions that we see that we should move above 90% in full year 2022. Maybe well known, one who are ramp up last year in early 2021 expansion should be more or less already been absorbed by the market.

And at the same time. I believe that we’re currently in a situation where things can come to North and South that means we’re in a situation where we have a balanced MDI market but I would lean currently more towards let’s say a market that will change to be little bit under supplied if there is not, let’s say major disruptions happening in one or the other direction. On TDI margins. It’s slightly different story because nameplate capacity, we are operating at rates in full year 2021 at around 73% That would indicate that there would have been little pricing power, but we have seen actually opposite in the overall market.

And also given that the available capacity based on planned or unplanned shutdowns is actually much lower than the nameplate capacity. Also expected overall structurally the situation improves but we also may benefit a little bit. Let’s say from this current, let’s say lack of availability of some TDI, TDI plants around the world.

So long story short, if you look at the overall term development, the announcement until 2026 the supply grows and on the other end demand growth and GDI we expect that we will see a further improving industrialization rate and especially in 2022, and 2023, the announced capacity additions would only sum up to 1% by the year each year. So that also gives you a flavor on TDI, standard polyols and really relevant markets for Covestro, which is Europe and North America, you could see that the industry margin levels are assumed to be extraordinarily high, that means more than twice as high as historic average.

And the reason for that, let’s say margin peak was that we had several production limitations in time of larger producers. And I’m not going down that entire list now. We’re seeing a recovery of the supply in Europe and North America. And that would indicate further margin normalization during that year, that might be on the other end potentially cushioned by planned turnarounds in the second quarter by, for example, Dow and Shell in Europe, but also lined out and Dow in North America. So overall, we have seen that in China already declined, in some margin decline happened to more normal levels, and with the rest of Asia Pacific to follow, and it remains to be seen how that spillover effect will look like for Europe and U.S. Because currently that is limited, particularly by the increased significantly increased supply chain costs that we talked already about in the different context and reliability of the assets.

Geoff Haire

Can I just ask a quick follow up? Within your multi-year contracts we have for MDI or polycarbonate, do you have energy pass through clauses on those?

Thomas Toepfer

Essentially, we do not have longer term contracts for MDI and TDI. So those are one month rolling contracts if you like, I mean, there might be a frame contract with the minimum and maximum quantities but the prices are essentially adjusted on a monthly level. And therefore, there is no automatism. So there is not an automatic price adjustment clause but there is a monthly weekly renegotiation of the prices, which is the standard in the industry.

Thomas Swoboda

I have two questions left, please. Firstly, on CapEx, can you give us a sneak preview on the next couple of years in the light of the investment in sustainability and the MDI plant wherever it will be built? When do you see the peak? What is the key CapEx, roughly, whatever you can say.

And the second question is on your emission targets an important driver is the renewable energy. My question is how much of this renewable energy you have in your planning? You are going to acquire yourself? Meaning how much is under your control? And how much do you rely on a relay that basically the government’s will provide enough green energy so you can reach your targets? Thank you.

A –

Yes, Thomas. This is Thomas, let me take the first question on CapEx. And, of course, I mean, the sneak preview is somewhat dependent on the decision that we take after the summer break, as Markus said, but let’s assume just for a minute that we were to decide to build MDI irrespective of which region it is, then I think you should expect another step up in 2023 of between 100 and 200 million, and you should expect the peak to occur roughly in 2025. With up to 1.5 billion for work. You also put this in context with our investment for carbon neutrality, we said that we would spend 1 billion over the next 10 years, I think that just shows you the absolute CapEx number that we need to achieve that target is not the big swing factor here simply because we have not stranded assets, we can fully operate our assets as they are with dropped in solution. So renewable input factors, we have to switch the energy to green energy supply, we have to switch them to green steam, but we don’t have to invest big ticket items for completely new installations because as I said, the ones that we have to work with drop in solutions and are not stranded assets. And I think that was put into context that the ticket for our carbon neutrality pass is not the big swing factor in our CapEx planning.

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