Solid results despite adverse semiconductor market environment

  • Net sales of CHF 214.4 million and EBITDA margin of 11.9%, slightly below prior year
  • Profitability in X-Ray Systems business up by 3.8%-points
  • Net income of CHF 5.9 million down significantly from prior year
  • Sound balance sheet with strong equity ratio of 58.0%
  • Free cash flow of CHF 16.0 million despite adverse market setting
  • Market share wins in x-ray business through new products
  • Strategic milestones achieved with e-beam and RF generators
  • Proposed distribution of CHF 4.00 per share from distributable paid-in capital

The COMET Group, after a significantly stronger second half of the year, closed fiscal year 2012 with consolidated net sales of CHF 214.4 million, a decrease of 1% from 2011. In local currencies, sales were down 3.4% year-over-year (2011: CHF 217.0 million). 
Demand for x-ray products rose continuously over the course of 2012. In North America the Group benefited from the progressive digitization of x-ray imaging in the aerospace industry and gained market share with new high and low energy x-ray sources in non-destructive testing. The sales growth in the x-ray segment, however, only partly offset the declining revenue in Plasma Control Technologies as a result of persistent low demand from the semiconductor market. 

Profitability in the Systems business grew considerably, with an increase of 3.8%-points in the EBITDA margin. The Group maintained its strategic investment in R&D and marketing, which (besides the lower sales) was a factor in the slight dip in EBITDA earnings to CHF 25.4 million (2011: CHF 27.3 million). The Group EBITDA margin eased to 11.9% (2011: 12.6%). Net financing expenses improved thanks to more stable exchange rates and lower interest rates. The high consolidated tax rate of 43% was well above the prior-year level, primarily as a result of the uneven distribution of pre-tax income among the subsidiaries. Net income was CHF 5.9 million (2011: CHF 10.1 million) and earnings per share amounted to CHF 7.86 (2011: CHF 13.22). Despite the challenging market environment, working capital was further optimized and the Group generated a solid free cash flow of CHF 16.0 million (2011: CHF 17.6 million). Net debt was reduced by CHF 6.2 million to CHF 25.9 million. The strong equity ratio of 58.0% (2011: 57.2%) testifies to the Group's continuing healthy balance sheet structure. 

In 2012 the COMET Group passed major strategic milestones in the heightened profitability of the Systems business, the introduction of e-beam technology, and the integration of radio frequency (RF) generators into COMET's manufacturing and marketing. As part of the continuous strategic process, the focus of the Group's direction was adjusted with the Strategy 2015 and the stage was set for the accelerated development of new business segments based on existing technologies and on recent additions such as e-beam. 


Systems division – Growth in earnings

Total net sales in the Systems division rose by 2.8% year over year to CHF 118.4 million, or by 1.4% in local currencies. The profit-boosting measures led to an improvement in EBITDA margin by 3.8%-points to 9.8% (2011: 6.0%). The division raised the degree of focus on high-margin standard products and applications, optimized its processes in the manufacturing of custom systems, and further expanded the service business, all of which significantly increased the divisional gross margin. At EBITDA level, the System division's earnings grew to CHF 11.6 million (2011: CHF 6.9 million).

A driver of sales growth was the continuing replacement of film with digital imaging in the North American aerospace industry. YXLON did well in this market with its compelling offering of premium quality, customized x-ray systems and global service. Thanks to focused sales and marketing efforts, revenue with portable systems also increased. In the electronics market the Systems division expanded its market share, helped, for example, by software upgrades that produced improvements in image resolution. 


Modules & Components division

The trajectories in the Modules & Components division differed markedly between its two product areas. While Industrial X-Ray gained market share, the weak demand in the semiconductor market weighed on results for Plasma Control Technologies. For the division as a whole this led to a sales reduction of 4.0% to CHF 114.4 million (2011: CHF 119.1 million), or a decrease of 6.5% on a local-currency basis. As a result of the lower sales volumes and focused investment in strategic initiatives (e-beam and RF technology), divisional operating earnings at EBITDA level eased to CHF 15.6 million (2011: CHF 21.2 million). The EBITDA margin was 13.6% (2011: 17.8%).


Industrial X-Ray – Market leadership maintained with new products

Industrial X-Ray pushed up its sales revenue 9.3% year over year by stepping up sales initiatives and new products. The non-destructive testing and security markets were intensively targeted with new products (high energy and low energy technology), custom-tailored solutions, and product upgrades. New applications (sorting) were also successfully developed. Industrial X-Ray achieved sales growth in every region. Through intensified marketing the business area, which remained highly profitable, prevailed against the competition despite the strength of the Swiss franc. The year's landmark event was the presentation of COMET’s e-beam technology by Tetra Pak at ANUGA Foodtec 2012 and the successful completion of the field tests, which saw 50 million beverage packages sterilized with e-beam treatment and sold. 
 

Plasma Control Technologies – Difficult environment, RF generators established successfully

Plasma Control Technologies (PCT) struggled amid the lasting poor demand in the semiconductor market beginning in the second quarter. As well, overcapacity in the flat panel and solar markets led to investment halts and project postponements in Asia. Sales in the PCT product area consequently declined by 14% from the prior year. In spite of the adverse environment, the business area continued to invest in research and development. This allowed it to secure design wins for coming projects with key customers on the strength of high-quality product solutions. In Europe, the Stolberg radio frequency generator business acquired in 2011 was established under the COMET brand and its product range revised. The short working hours in effect since July 2012 at the operations in Flamatt were lifted meanwhile as the improved order situation allowed a full work schedule to be resumed.


Distribution from paid-in capital

The Board of Directors will propose to shareholders at the next Annual Meeting to pay a distribution of CHF 4.00 per share from distributable paid-in capital (prior year: CHF 4.00 per share). This represents an increased payout ratio of 51% of net income (2011: 30%) and reflects the Board's confidence in the company's strategic focus. 


Outlook

For 2013, the Board of Directors and Executive Committee affirm sales growth to CHF 230-250 million with an EBITDA margin of 12-14%. Management expects the slight improvement in the semiconductor market to continue in the second half of the year. Sustained growth is also expected in the other segments. The Group's sales in the first half of 2013 will be comparable to the first six months of 2012, while sales in the second half of the year will grow significantly from the same period one year earlier.
 

Annual Report 2012

The current COMET Group Annual Report is available at www.comet.ch/en/investor-relations/financial-reports-presentations/annual-reports.
 

Media and analyst conference

COMET will present the published financial results for 2012 today, March 14, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. at the media and analyst conference in Zurich (location: SIX Swiss Exchange, Convention Point, Selnaustrasse 30).