BASF Chairman Jürgen Hambrecht sounded confident last week, following their annual results.
2007 sales were €58bn (up 10% on 2006), and income from operations was €7.3bn (up 8%). However, Q4 saw sales up just 1.6% at €14.7bn, and income actually down 3.4% at €1.6bn.
The main culprit in Q4 was chemicals. Sales were marginally down on 2006 at €3.4bn (partly due to the impact of extended plant turnarounds), but income fell 50%. Unsurprisingly, N America was the problem region, with sales down 11% and income down 64%. BASF was clearly hit very hard, as one would expect, by higher feedstock costs and the downturn in housing and autos.
However, BASF was supported by a solid performance from its oil and gas business, where their main partner is Gazprom. The sector accounted for only 18% of 2007 sales, but contributed 41% of total profit. This was a very good performance given the strength of the euro, as the $7/bbl increase in the average price of Brent translated into just a €1/bbl increase for BASF.
The sector’s Q4 performance was excellent. BASF faces a headwind in its gas business when prices are rising, as it takes time to pass on these increases to customers. (Of course, it benefits from the same effect when prices fall). But although oil and gas sales were flat at €3.1bn, they still contributed €800m and represented 50% of total Group income.
BASF are continuing to reshape the portfolio, and hope to complete the styrenics sale within a few weeks. This would follow previous petchem divestments (eg Basell), and the acquisition of late-cycle businesses (eg Engelhard). BASF’s low debt ratio is also a strength as the credit crisis worsens. Whilst its Verbund strategy of highly integrated sites provides cost leadership, which is always critical during a downturn.
Chemicals and plastics will probably cause increased problems for BASF in 2008. But oil prices are already well above BASF’s budget figure of $78/bbl. So its perhaps understandable that Hambrecht felt able to tell the Financial Times he is currently still ‘sleeping well at night.’