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In 2020, we achieved net sales of EUR 46.2 million, an increase by 4.1 % over the previous year (EUR 44.4 million). Currency effects amounted to -2.5 %, volumes increased by 13.5 %, and shifts in the price/product mix impacted sales by -6.9 %. Sales of emission certificates amounted to EUR 0.1 million, as in the previous year.
In Brazil, delayed permits from government authorities led to harvest delays. We were able to reduce the impact by processing tree species for the local market that have less demand in export markets. Deliveries through the container port in Manaus were at no time jeopardized in 2020. In Gabon, we again experienced numerous interruptions in deliveries like in previous years. At times, there were no containers available, roads were impassable, or rail capacity was insufficient. Because of Covid-19, ships were at times also not allowed to dock, and authorities to process the goods were available only to a limited extent. Several short strikes by authorities made work even more difficult. In summary, we had to deal with massive – and more than usual – infrastructure problems in Gabon in 2020. Because of delayed machine and parts deliveries, for instance, we were not able to start operations at the new sawmill for hardwood until April, and we ramp up to two-shift production only in early 2021. All these circumstances led to additional costs and high inventories of finished products. The margin generated was also reduced, and we experienced liquidity bottlenecks.
Effective 1 October 2020, Precious Woods entered into a partnership with a French group that is the market leader in the production of plywood panels in France and also has a veneer production site in Gabon. By merging the two veneer plants, we are able to secure technical expertise, future viability, and distribution for TGI products. As in previous years, the sawmill will supply the new company with veneer quality logs. Precious Woods holds a 49 % stake in this merger.
Despite the more difficult operating conditions, we achieved Group sales growth of about EUR 1.8 million or 4.1 % in 2020. The exchange rate effects of -2.5 % and the effect of the price/product mix of -6.9 % are primarily due to the sale of sawn timber in the local market in Brazil. Prices in the local market are lower than in the export markets, and the 24 % weaker Brazilian real against the EUR is reflected in the consolidation. Overall, operations in Brazil generated the same sales as in the previous year. In Gabon we achieved an increase in sales of EUR 3.9 million or 14.5 %. This is also due to the fact that the sale of logs from Bambidie to the TGI veneer plant is deemed external sales starting in October 2020. Trading sales in logs and sawn timber from Europe decreased again and, at EUR 2.5 million, were 36.6 % or EUR 1.4 million below the previous year.
Operational development: Costs and market
The production volume of sawn timber in Brazil increased by 11.5 %. Yield improved by 1.2 percentage points. Of the total harvest volume of about 185 000 m3, 30 000 m3 could not yet be transported from the forest to the sawmill because heavy rains blocked us since November. Sales of sawn timber for the local market increased by 87 %, while sales for the export market decreased by about 17 %. Sawmill capacity was slightly expanded again somewhat. The good capacity utilization led to a further increase in profitability.
The sawmills in Gabon processed 8.1 % more logs and at the same time produced 5.5 % less sawn timber. This was due to a reduction in yield of about 2.5 percentage points. Export sales increased by 10.5 % over the previous year, but the inventories of logs and sawn timber in the sawmills also increased.
The veneer plant was fully owned by us only until the end of September 2020. During this time, log processing was at the level of the previous year, but yield fell by 3.3 percentage points. This development had a very negative impact on the operating margin, and we ultimately recorded a loss at that plant.
Market prices for sawn timber were under substantial pressure all year. Due to the pandemic and the great uncertainty, demand fell, leading at times to overcapacity. Thanks to our strong market position with certified products, we were able to limit the consequences. Our pure trading activities and sales to our veneer customers were most affected. The high inventory levels led to strong price reductions in this segment.
The investment volume was EUR 4.0 million (previous year: EUR 5.7 million). The focus was on the new hardwood sawmill in Gabon, which began production in April 2020. Replacement investments in machinery and vehicles, renewal projects in road construction, and expansion of production capacities for sawn timber in Brazil were also implemented. These targeted investments will improve the Group’s earning power. Maintenance work in all plants was carried out on schedule.
The average prices for sawn timber across the Group were 6.9 % below the previous year’s level. A special challenge for us continues to be the search for markets and applications for the approximately 50 different timber species that we process each year. With our dual certification and credibility, we have good arguments and a head start here, given that sustainability is playing an ever-greater role in the procurement of tropical woods. However, the major challenge remains to establish even small quantities of lesser-known timber species on the markets and with customers. Europe continues to be our main sales market with a share of about 55.1 %, followed by Africa with 14.7 %, Asia with 13.5 %, and other countries with 16.7 %. The share in Europe decreased by 0.2 percentage points.
Production costs increased by 12.2 % across the Group. The operational contribution decreased by 1.0 % or EUR 0.3 million over the previous year. Personnel costs fell by 7.8 % or EUR 1.6 million. These figures must be seen in the context of the exchange rate effect from the Brazilian real, given that costs are about 24 % lower than in the previous year.
Operating result (EBITDA)
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was EUR 5.8 million, on the level of the previous year (EUR 5.9 million). This corresponds to an EBITDA margin of 12.5 % (previous year: 13.2 %). The valuation of biomass in Brazil gave rise to a one-time effect in the previous year, and we reported an EBITDA of EUR 18.4 million (normalized: EUR 5.9 million).
PW Amazon achieved an EBITDA margin of 31.5 % (previous year: 22.3 %). PW Gabon decreased its EBITDA margin by 4.9 % to 13.6 % (previous year: 18.5 %). Consolidated depreciation was EUR 3.9 million (previous year: EUR 4.5 million), 13.6 % lower than in the previous year. At Group level, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) reached EUR 1.9 million (previous year: EUR 1.4 million). This corresponds to a margin of 4.1 % (previous year: 3.1 %). All comparative figures refer to normalized results, however.
Taking into account the one-time effect, EBIT in 2019 was EUR 14.0 million.
At EUR -3.0 million, the financial result was below the previous year’s level of EUR -2.3 million. At the end of the year, net debt was EUR 41.9 million, EUR 0.3 million higher than in the previous year (EUR 41.6 million). The currency effect of EUR -0.1 million was practically at the previous year’s level of EUR -0.2 million.
The net loss was EUR 2.2 million compared with a loss of EUR 1.1 million in the previous year. The loss in the first half year could not be made up, but we consider the result to be satisfactory in light of the difficult market situation. The net result with one-time effects was EUR 8.0 million in 2019.
Now that the new hardwood sawmill in Gabon has been operating in two shifts since the beginning of the year and production capacity in Brazil has increased again, we expect an increase in sawn timber volumes and improved yield. Harvest volumes will end at the level of 2020. If the delivery situation in Gabon improves, we will be able to reduce our excessively high inventory and achieve a net increase in sales and profitability. Our partnership in the veneer business will also have a positive impact on sales and earnings. Further expansions in the sawmills are coming up, so that we will be able to process higher volumes in 2022 as well. Price increases have been observed in the sales markets since February 2021. All the factors listed above make us confident that we can expect a successful year in 2021. Precious Woods intends to take full control of the BK Energia energy plant in Brazil and to repurchased the shares.