Future Orientation of the Group
We do not plan on making any fundamental changes to the Group’s strategy or organizational structure in the next two years. The focus on specialty markets and the offer of innovative chemical solutions will continue to drive our business development.
We do not expect our entry into new market segments or application areas to lead to any significant changes in our sales structure in the medium term. We also expect the balanced regional sales distribution to basically remain stable.
Acquisitions, however, could lead to changes in our sales and market structures. Bolt-on acquisitions and particularly the integration of a new business division could result in a shift.
Economic and Industry Outlook
The world economy is expected to continue to grow at a high level in 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts an increase of 3.9 % in world economic output, slightly higher than the 2017 level (3.7 %).
This development should be driven primarily by stronger growth momentum in the emerging countries, especially by the economies in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. The highest momentum is again forecast for the emerging Asian economies. The IMF estimates that the growth rates in China and India will remain very high (6.6 % and 7.4 %, respectively) and thus to have a positive influence on global growth.
Increased growth is forecast for the U.S. (2.7 % in 2018 compared to 2.3 % in 2017). The IMF expects that following the recession Brazil will experience a sustained upswing (growth of 1.9 % after 1.1 % in 2017). In Europe, the stable development of economic output is expected to basically continue in 2018, with growth of 2.2 %, though at a slightly lower level than in the past fiscal year (2.4 %).
Against the background of the global economic outlook, we expect the general chemical sector in 2018 to achieve slightly higher growth than in the previous year. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) forecasts that worldwide chemical production will increase by 3.2 % in 2018, after an expected 2.5 % last year. This growth will be driven by the chemical industry in the emerging countries and in the established economic nations.
We assume that in this market environment general demand on the markets relevant for ALTANA will basically be positive, although the regions will show different developments. The extent to which changes in storage levels along the value chain will influence the actual demand for the products of our divisions largely depends on the expected short- to medium-term development. Stock-level changes can lead to significant effects.
The development of crude-oil prices cannot be predicted reliably. We expect that the price-level increase that began in 2017 will continue in the coming years. The availability, pricing, and consumption volume of chemical products are subject to the influence of the crude-oil market, albeit to different extents. In addition, the expectations of market participants in terms of the future development of oil prices can result in significant changes in the level of storage along the value chain in the chemical industry.
As in the previous years, the exchange-rate relations important for ALTANA may continue to show pronounced volatilities in 2018. The development of regional interest rates and economic output, as well as political influences, can be of decisive importance for exchange-rate fluctuations. Since the intensity and direction of the exchange rates cannot be predicted, it is not possible to make concrete statements about the influence.
Expected Earnings, Asset, and Financial Situation
Expected Sales and Earnings Performance
On the basis of the growth anticipated for the global economy, we expect the demand for our products and services to exhibit a positive development in the new fiscal year. We expect our operating sales growth, i. e. sales growth adjusted for exchange-rate and acquisition effects, to range from 2 % to 5 %. The main driver for this growth should be the higher sales volume. But due to the fact that the crude-oil price level will be passed on in part, positive sales effects should also result from price changes.
Nominal sales in 2018 should be higher than operating growth due to the acquisitions completed in 2017 and can be additionally influenced by exchange-rate changes. For the most part, operating sales in the divisions should develop in the same growth range as Group operating sales.
In terms of the important functional cost factors, we do not foresee significant shifts of cost ratios in relation to sales. We expect the materials cost ratio to increase further on account of rising raw materials prices.
For personnel expenses and other fixed cost figures, we project a relative increase at the same level as or slightly lower than sales growth.
Against this background, we anticipate that in 2018 the EBITDA margin will continue to decline slightly in the direction of our long-term target range of 18 % to 20 %.
After 2018, we expect stable growth momentum with basically the same or slightly higher profitability.
Expected Asset and Financial Situation
There should not be any significant shifts in the balancesheet structure in 2018. In the next two years, our capital expenditure for property, plant and equipment and intangible assets should be above our long-term target range of 5 % to 6 % due to strategic growth projects. The development of the absolute values of net working capital should be analogous to the general business development, though we are striving to slightly improve the ratios.
Based on the anticipated business performance, we should achieve liquidity surpluses from operating activities. These surpluses will be used primarily to finance investments and for bolt-on acquisitions. In addition, we plan to repay the promissory note loans on schedule from 2018 through 2020.
We project the value management key figures to decrease slightly in 2018 due to the acquisitions and technology purchases in 2017. This decline will be a consequence of the full-year effect of acquisitions on operating capital.
Management and control of the ALTANA Group are geared to the strategy that has been defined and the target levels derived from it. Due to changes in the economic environment or internal factors of influence, it might not be possible to implement the strategy successfully or to achieve targets in the planned time frame or to the planned extent. To be optimally prepared for such situations, ALTANA systematically identifies, evaluates, and considers risks within the framework of decision-making processes.
To anchor our risk policy at all decision-making levels, we established a Group-wide risk management system that brings together various information, communications, and monitoring systems. Core elements of our risk management include strategic corporate planning, internal reporting, our internal control system, compliance organization, and risk management in the strict sense, i. e. the identification, documentation, and evaluation of risks including the derivation of appropriate precautionary measures and countermeasures.
Our strategic corporate planning is closely tied to our medium- to long-term financial planning. The extent of the fulfillment of our targets is examined in monthly reports on the company’s business performance and in our short-term financial planning. Deviations can be recognized and countermeasures introduced if necessary.
Our internal control system, which is oriented to the standards of the internationally recognized COSO model, defines organizational measures for preventing damage from being done to the company, among other things. In connection with our established compliance organization, it aims to prevent possible violations of guidelines and laws on the part of employees.
At ALTANA, risk management in the strict sense is viewed as the systematic compilation, evaluation, documentation, and communication of relevant risks. Thus it is an essential component of the company’s system for early risk recognition in accordance with section 91 (2) of the German Stock Corporation Act. This system was voluntarily examined by the auditor.
The audit deemed the system capable of recognizing risks that can endanger the existence of the company at an early stage.
Risks that are identified are evaluated in a uniform way. So-called evaluated risks are assessed based on the probability of its occurring and the potential damages. Individual risks can be rated based on this assessment. Risks rated as very high are risks which could cost the company € 25 million or more in the next 12 months. Individual risks that could cost the company between € 12 million and € 25 million are rated as high risks; risks that would cost between € 5 million and € 12 million are categorized as medium risks, and risks that would cost less than € 5 million are deemed low risks. The prioritization resulting from the assessment determines focal points for the development and initiation of countermeasures to prevent or reduce the potential effects of risks.
The individual risks and risk fields described in the following pages could have a material adverse effect on the Group’s earnings, financial, and asset situation in the years to come and thus give rise to a negative deviation from the forecast development. For individual risks categorized as “medium” and “high” we address changes in our appraisal compared to the previous year. In 2017, risks categorized as “very high” were not identified.
Economic and Industry Risks
The development of the general economic conditions worldwide has a decisive impact on our business performance. The performances of the economies of the U.S., China, and Germany – industrial nations important for ALTANA – have a particularly strong impact on the direction and intensity of demand for our products.
A global economic crisis leading to an economic collapse would bring about significant sales decreases with corresponding influences on our earnings. Recessions limited to certain regions in sales markets important for us could also significantly impair our business performance. With the global orientation of our sales activities, we try to shape our dependence on regional or national markets in such a way that the effects of geographically confined economic crises on the Group are limited.
Thus, our most important individual market currently accounts for only roughly 20 % of total Group sales. The distribution of our business activities in the core regions of Europe, Asia, and the Americas also has a balanced structure.
At the same time, we continually update our appraisal of the regional economic development in our internal reporting system to be able to react to foreseeable effects by controlling our procurement, production, and sales activities. We react to long-term shifts in regional economic performance by adjusting our sales and local production and organizational structures.
In addition to general economic risks, there are marketrelated sales risks concerning individual product groups or application areas. Particularly medium- to long-term trends that structurally lead to a decrease in demand in our target markets can mean that we will not achieve our growth and profitability targets. We try to control industry-related sales risks by broadly diversifying our offer. We supply many different industries, which in turn sell their end products in various markets. Therefore, our dependence on the underlying consumer segments is limited. We estimate that no single consumer segment (e. g. the automotive industry) accounts for more than 20 % of our sales.
The analysis of our industry-specific and application-related sales is a component of our annual strategy process. In addition, we examine changes in future growth potential arising from demand trends and technological developments, and adjust our strategic orientation in the divisions if necessary.
The occurrence of a global economic crisis or the emergence of regional economic crises are two significant economic and industry risks that are rated as “high” or “medium” risks. In the 2017 fiscal year, we changed our assessments of the probability of these risks occurring and of the potential damages. We assess the risk of both of these things to be lower than in the previous year.
Sales risks result mainly from intensified competition or shifts in customer structure. They include sales risks for individual products or product groups due to specific demand trends.
This can lead to decreasing sales revenues, which can be caused by declining sales volumes or falling prices. Since in many cases we cannot adjust the cost structure in the short term, this can lead to a drop in profitability.
We counter sales risks by continually optimizing our product and service portfolio, above all on the basis of our innovative ability. In the process, it is decisive that we cooperate closely with our customers at an early stage of development work to adapt to market needs. With our innovation strategy, we can counter increased competition in our markets.
A loss of, mergers of, or backward integration of customers can lead to major changes in the customer structure. Due to our very diversified customer structure, however, these risks are limited. In addition, we cooperate closely with our core customers within the framework of our key account management.
In the year under review, we only slightly changed our assessment of the probability of occurrence and loss potential from sales risks.
Risks from Company Acquisitions and Investments
Apart from operating growth, acquisitions of companies, business activities, and individual technologies play a key role for the implementation of the strategy for profitable growth at ALTANA. Depending on the size of the activities acquired, inadequate integration can place a burden on the Group’s earnings situation and limit its financial headroom. In addition, a business performance that is worse than what was expected when the acquisition was made can lead to impairments of assets with a negative impact on earnings.
To minimize the effects of the risks from company acquisitions, we examine our acquisition targets systematically and comprehensively and analyze them in detail in a multistage approval process.
In 2017, we assessed the risk of impairments of assets from acquisitions, which we classify as a medium risk, as being slightly higher than in the previous year. This resulted from increased loss potential – due to the high number of acquisitions we made in the past fiscal year – with a decreased probability of occurrence.
Limited availability of certain raw materials or substantial raw materials price increases that we cannot or can only partially pass on to the markets in the short term constitute the primary procurement risks. These can have a negative impact on the Group’s earnings situation.
We continually analyze the situation on the raw materials markets that are relevant for ALTANA. By doing so, we can identify price trends and structural shifts on the part of suppliers at an early stage and devise suitable measures. We take this knowledge into account when we arrange supply contracts. In addition, we take account of the volatility of raw materials prices in our customer relations. To be able to pass on price increases to the markets in the short term, we use the flexibility of price mechanisms and price lockup periods.
Financial Market Risks
Financial market risks primarily concern short-term and significant changes in exchange-rate relations and interest rates, as well as default risks and the covering of financialresource needs.
Due to exchange rate fluctuations, the translation of foreign currency positions into the Group currency, the euro, can have a negative effect on the Group’s sales and earnings performance (translation risks). Such negative effects can also result from business conducted in a foreign currency (transaction risks). As in the previous year, we categorize translation risk as being a medium risk. Interest rate changes influence financing costs. Defaults on trade accounts receivable or financial receivables can also have a negative effect on the Group’s earnings situation and its financial resources. If there is a lack of availability of financial resources for the implementation of acquisitions or major investment projects, we might not reach our strategic targets.
We safeguard against material transaction risks by concluding forward foreign-exchange contracts in cases where we assume that the underlying business can be realized with a sufficient degree of certainty. The total amount expected is safeguarded in different tranches to offset short-term exchange rate fluctuations.
More information on our evaluation and accounting procedures for hedges can be found in the online Consolidated Financial Statements on page 55 ff. (note 28).
To minimize credit default risks, we systematically examine the credit rating and payment behavior of our counterparties. The latter include customers, the banks we do business with, and other business partners where payment default can have an influence on our financial situation.
We safeguard availability of financial resources through central control and monitoring of our Group-wide financial resources. In addition, by utilizing various financing instruments, we centrally provide a financial resources framework that covers medium-term needs going beyond the planned financial cash inflow from our operating business.
We assess financial market risks to be higher than in the previous year due, in particular, to the increased volatility on the currency markets. Continued high cash inflows from operating business activity and the existing general financial resources framework suffice to cover the expected cash outflows for investments, repayments, and dividends.
ALTANA’s position as an innovation and technology leader is a major success factor for the company. It is important for a supplier of highly specialized chemical products to continually introduce new products on the market and to be perceived by our customers as a competent and innovative partner. If this was no longer the case in the future, risks could result for our sustainable growth, the attainment of our profitability targets, and ALTANA’s positioning in the relevant markets. The same applies if competitors patent knowhow that we use but have not protected, as we would then no longer be able to use it, or only at additional cost.
With our innovation culture, which is put into practice at all levels of our organization, we highlight the importance of innovation and safeguard its status. Both at a decentralized and a Group level, we continually evaluate and control our research and development activities based on financial and non-financial criteria. By investing above-average amounts in research and development and focusing on product adjustments and new developments, we can continually introduce products on the market that are tailored to customers’ individual and current needs and thus heighten our competitive edge.
It is important to protect knowhow we develop with patents to convert our knowledge edge into economic success. This includes safeguarding technologies as well as methods and product properties we currently use so that other companies cannot patent them.
In 2017, there was no significant change in our assessment of innovation risks in comparison to the previous year.
Production risks concern technical disruptions or human failure in production that can be harmful to people or the environment. Our goal is to minimize the effects of machine failure on the value chain by operating production lines independently from one another. It is compulsory for our staff to receive training in the clearly defined process and quality standards in the areas in question. In addition, we conclude property damage as well as plant and equipment breakdown insurances.
Information technologies form the basis of nearly all of ALTANA’s business and communications processes. Breakdowns or other disruptions of IT systems can lead to farreaching impairments in all of the Group’s value-added stages, which can have significant effects on business performance (IT risks). In addition, potential risks arise from data loss or theft of business secrets. ALTANA attaches great importance to smooth availability of IT applications and services.
To guarantee this, corresponding processes and organizational structures have been established. Emergency plans are in place in case of significant disruptions or losses of data.
Delivery of faulty products can cause damage to people, property, or the environment and thus cause liability risks. This can have significant effects on the Group’s asset situation. We minimize this risk by standardizing production processes to a large extent and by taking comprehensive quality-control measures. In addition, we continually conduct analyses to assess the hazardous potential of our input materials and products, and we conclude insurances.
Changes in political and regulatory framework conditions can lead to restrictions on trade or foreign-exchange transactions. Due to political unrest, it can be more difficult or even impossible to access the Group’s assets in the country or countries in question. On account of regulatory adjustments, it might no longer be possible to process or sell certain products or ingredients, or only with strong restrictions. We continually examine the political environment in the countries important for us and take current tendencies into account when evaluating business relationships. We only make direct investments in countries in which we assume the political environment is highly stable. We actively take part in legislative procedures and discussions focusing on changes in the regulatory environment. As a result, we can anticipate possible new requirements early on.
Legal violations (compliance risks) can give rise to liability risks or tarnish our reputation, which can have a significant effect on the Group’s earnings and asset situation. We counter these risks within the framework of our compliance management system, inter alia by regularly informing and training our employees about relevant legal requirements.
An important basis for long-term success are competent and committed employees. Should we no longer be able to recruit or retain suitable specialists or managers in the future, risks could arise for the successful implementation of our strategy (personnel risks). To counter these risks, ALTANA offers a sophisticated work environment and an attractive compensation system, which is supplemented by various pension plans and wealth creation schemes. Moreover, we regularly offer further education and training programs to budding junior staff members, as well as to specialized and managerial staff.
Compliant Group Accounting
Essential accounting-related risks arise particularly when extraordinary or non-routine issues are handled. These include the first-time consolidation of acquired companies or parts of companies as well as the recording of the sale of Group assets. Accounting of financial instruments is also subject to risks due to the complex evaluation structure. Risks also arise from fraudulent acts.
At ALTANA, a separate department of the Group’s holding company coordinates and monitors Group accounting. A core component of the control system are the guidelines, process descriptions, and deadlines that this department defines centrally for all companies, guaranteeing a standardized procedure for preparing the financial statements. For complex issues, the instruments needed for uniform accounting are retained centrally for all Group companies. For recording extraordinary processes and complex special issues, we regularly obtain external reports, advice, and statements.
The financial statements of the individual Group companies are prepared decentrally by the local accounting departments. Hence the individual companies are responsible for preparing the financial statements, in keeping with Group guidelines and country-specific statutory accounting requirements.
The work steps needed to prepare the financial statements are defined such that important process controls are integrated. These include guidelines pertaining to the separation of functions and allocation of responsibilities, to control mechanisms, and to IT system access regulations. The respective management explicitly confirms to the Group’s management that the annual financial statements are correct and complete. In addition, important financial statements are audited by the company or Group auditors in charge.
The local accounting statements are recorded and consolidated via standardized formats and processes in a central IT system. At the divisional and holding company levels numerous manual and IT-assisted control mechanisms are applied. They encompass an analysis and a plausibility examination of the registered data and the consolidated results by Group accounting as well as by the controlling department and other departments with expertise in this area. Required corrections of the information in the financial statements are generally made at the level of the individual company to ensure the data are uniform and are transferred.
The company auditor and the Group auditor examine issues, processes, and control systems relevant for the generation of financial statements. The auditor reports on the audit directly to the Supervisory Board and the Audit Committee. In certain cases, audits are carried out by the central Internal Audit department.
After each process related to the preparation of the financial statements, optimization potential identified at the different levels is analyzed and necessary adjustments of the processes are made.
The identification and evaluation of opportunities for our future business development is integrated into the different planning, analysis, and control processes.
Within the framework of strategic planning, we analyze demand trends as well as market and technology developments with regard to options for action that could enable ALTANA to create value. In addition, the divisions continually examine possibilities of developing new sales markets. During the financial-planning process, the effects of action options are evaluated and discussed so that we can optimally exploit future opportunities. Finally, possible opportunities for short-term business development, along with the attendant risks, are dealt with in detail at all levels of management.
Below, major opportunities are described that could lead to ALTANA’s surpassing its short-, medium-, or long-term goals. The order corresponds to our assessment of the effects on our business performance.
Economic and Industry Development
Should the economic environment in the established industrial regions important for ALTANA, and particularly in the U.S. and Europe, develop better than we anticipated, unexpected growth impetus could arise. As a result, demand for our products and services could develop more positively and exceed our forecast. The same applies to growth in the important emerging countries in Asia and South America. If the growth rates in these nations were higher than expected, we might be able to benefit from this to a disproportionately high extent due to our market positions.
In addition to regional factors, growth impetus can also result from individual branches of industry. Further potential could be opened up, in particular, if the automotive sector and the construction industry showed a positive development, or if there was a trend reversal concerning the use of silver and gray colors in the consumer sector.
We have to continually streamline our product and service portfolio to be able to continue to pursue our strategy for profitable growth in the long term. Should ALTANA manage to enhance its innovativeness more quickly than expected or to increase its share of new products for which there is a high demand beyond the target level, there would be even better prospects for growth. The same applies if we entered new markets or opened up new application fields for our products.
Company Acquisitions and Portfolio Measures
Acquisitions play a key role in ALTANA’s long-term value creation. In recent years, we have continually advanced the Group strategically due to acquisitions. At the same time, we cleansed our portfolio of those activities that were not in line with our strategic aims and for which there were no longterm value-creation perspectives within the Group.
In the future, we intend to continue to boost our growth by acquiring companies and activities. This is an essential prerequisite for us to achieve our strategic growth targets. Should opportunities arise in the future that exceed our expectations, these new activities could help us strengthen our market positions and open up new market segments. This, in turn, could help us achieve our strategic targets more quickly.
The ALTANA Group is decentralized to a large extent. Still, in some areas of the value-creation chain and in certain management functions, central units support the divisions and play a coordinating role. To the extent that we manage to push forward the networks within the Group more strongly than expected, this may spawn further potential to improve efficiency.
The Management Board’s Overall Statement on the Anticipated Development of the Group Including Its Overall View of the Risk and Opportunity Situation
In 2018, we expect the global economy to continue to grow dynamically. In this environment, we expect ALTANA to achieve operating sales growth of 2 % to 5 %, with slightly lower earnings profitability. But acquisitions that were made will temporarily weaken the value management key figures.
We believe that the risk of burdens from a muted or even recessive development of the global economy or in important core regions continues to exist. In addition, considerable risks to our short-term sales and earnings performance are posed by the higher price volatility on the raw materials markets and by short-term exchange-rate fluctuations.
Overall, we have not found any risks that could endanger the continued existence of the company. The risks we face are set against numerous opportunities that could enable us to achieve sales and earnings performance surpassing our forecasts.
In sum, we expect to be able to successfully implement our strategy to sustain profitable growth in the coming years as well.