- Significant contribution to the fight against covid-19
- Sales resilience, significant margin improvement and net profit growth
- Well positioned for future growth
Commenting on the results for 2020, Benoît Potier, Air Liquide Chairman and CEO, stated:
“The Group was fully mobilized to serve its customers and patients in 2020, which was an out of the ordinary year, whilst being resolutely committed to the fight against covid-19.
I want to recognize the exceptional work accomplished by all the Air Liquide’s teams.
The Group‘s performance was outstanding in this environment: sales resilience, significant margin improvement, net profit growth and investment decisions continued at a very high level. This performance illustrates the solidity of our business model. It also perfectly positions the Group for future growth and enables it to already benefit from the acceleration seen in healthcare, energy transition, and the increasing presence of technologies, in particular digital, in all sectors.
Over the full year, 2020 sales were practically stable on a comparable basis, with business back to growth in the fourth quarter. The Gas & Services sales, which account for 96% of Group revenue, held up well, as did Global Markets & Technologies which retained their momentum. On a comparable basis, business was supported by strong sales growth in Healthcare and Electronics. Geographically, the situation was extremely varied with Europe faring well, driven by demand in Healthcare, and a solid performance from the developing economies, particularly China, and Eastern European and Latin American countries.
The Group’s operating margin improvement plan, combined with exceptional cost containment measures relating to the situation in 2020, resulted in a marked improvement in the margin of +80 bps excluding energy impact. The structural efficiencies stood at 441 million euros. Operating cash flows were high and the debt-to-equity ratio was reduced significantly. The Group’s balance sheet confirms its strength.
The Group has achieved, as of 2019, the sales and efficiencies objectives of its NEOS 2020 company program. As for the ROCE of 10%+, it is maintained, with target achievement by 2023-2024 to take into account the impact of the covid-19 crisis as well as the pro-active investment policy in the current favorable context. In 2020, investment decisions thus stood at the extremely high level of 3.2 billion euros, indicative of future growth.
In an environment marked by global recovery plans and commitment to energy transition, the Group still has numerous investment opportunities of which 44% are projects related to the fight against climate change, including the development of Hydrogen Energy.
In 2021, in a context of limited local lockdowns in the first half of the year and recovery in the second half, Air Liquide is confident in its ability to further increase its operating margin and to deliver recurring net profit growth, at constant exchange rates. ”
- Crisis management:
- Rapid adaptation to the crisis for the entire organization: implementation of strict health standards allowing business continuity, development of homeworking. Increased attention on our stakeholders: employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers.
- Exceptional Group mobilization against Covid-19.
- Implementation of a temporary cost containment plan enabling immediate alignment with the activity level.
- Mobilization of Air Liquide Healthcare teams worldwide to deal with the increased demand for medical oxygen resulting from the pandemic. Tripling of the production of intensive care ventilators in France. Success of the consortium of industrial companies led by Air Liquide to manufacture 10,000 ventilators in record time. Tripling of the production of CryopAL’s medical oxygen tanks.
- In Home Healthcare, strengthening the home healthcare offer with support for diabetic patients in Germany and the Benelux.
- Air Liquide Foundation support for 10 scientific projects and 25 emergency social support projects as part of its Covid-19 initiative.
- Finalization of the acquisition agreement with Sasol for the world’s largest oxygen production facility, in Secunda, South Africa, for approximately 440 million euros, with a CO2 emissions reduction target of at least 30%. This operation remains subject to the usual conditions precedent, in particular the authorization of the South African Competition Authority.
- Numerous long-term contracts and investments in Large Industries, in the United States with Eastman Chemical Company and Steel Dynamics Inc, in Europe with BASF in Belgium, KGHM Polska Miedz in Poland and in the port of Moerdijk in the Netherlands, in Russia with NLMK, in China in the port area of Tianjin and in Taiwan.
- Major contracts in Electronics, particularly in China (BOE) and Taiwan.
- Continuation of the Group’s digital transformation with the worldwide roll-out of its program to digitize the liquid gas supply chain, IBO (Integrated Bulk Operations), in Industrial Merchant.
- Climate and energy transition:
- Carbon-free hydrogen: Start-up of the world’s largest Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer in Bécancour, Quebec (Canada). In January 2021, the company acquired a 40% stake in the French company H2V Normandy with a view to building an electrolyzer complex powered by low-carbon energy with a capacity of up to 200 MW.
- Projects supporting hydrogen mobility for trucks: announcement of the construction of the first high-pressure hydrogen refueling station in Europe, in Fos-sur-Mer in France, and launch of an initiative with the Port of Rotterdam to develop infrastructure which will allow 1,000 hydrogen-powered trucks to travel between the Netherlands, Belgium and Western Germany by 2025.
- Publication of a study on the competitiveness of hydrogen solutions by the Hydrogen Council, which now has 109 members, compared with 81 in mid-January 2020 and 13 when it was created in 2017.
- Acceleration of biomethane activities: launch in Italy with the construction of two production units and a distribution station for local transport companies, acceleration in the United Kingdom with a contract with the Asda retail group for the installation and operation of six Bio-NGV distribution stations.
- Signing of a long-term renewable electricity purchase contract, representing 15% of the current consumption of the Group’s activities in Spain.
- Sale of schulke to private equity firm EQT. Sale of CryoPDP to French private equity firm Hivest Capital Partners.
- Acquisition of 80% of the capital of the French company Cryoconcept, specialized in dilution refrigeration.
- Sale of Air Liquide entities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
- Successful launch of a double long-term bond issue for a total of 1 billion euros.
- First General Meeting held in closed session and livestreamed, generating 40,000 views via livestream and replay.
Group revenue for 2020 totaled 20,485 million euros, almost flat on a comparable basis compared with 2019, at -1.3%, in a context of global health and economic crisis. The business model thus demonstrated its robustness, supported by the Group’s global presence and the diversity and balance of its portfolio between growth businesses and resilient sectors. Engineering & Construction consolidated revenue, which was down -23% over the year, enjoyed a strong +24.1% increase in the 4th quarter. Global Markets & Technologies was up +6.0%, with a dynamic momentum in biogas with the start-up of new units. Group revenue as published was down -6.5% due to negative currency (-2.0%), energy (-1.8%), and significant scope (-1.4%) impacts.
Gas & Services revenue totaled 19,656 million euros, very close to 2019 on a comparable basis, at -1.2%. Sales as published were down -6.6% in 2020, affected by unfavorable currency (-2.1%), energy (-1.9%) and significant scope (-1.4%) impacts. The significant scope impact mainly reflects the disposal of Schülke in Healthcare.
- Gas & Services revenue in the Americas totaled 7,799 million euros in 2020, a decline of -3.7% on a comparable basis. In North America, sales started improving sequentially in the 3rd quarter but remained down compared with 2019. Sales were up markedly in Latin America in 2020, mainly driven by a start-up in Large Industries in Argentina and strong demand for medical oxygen. Large Industries revenue in the region was up +1.4%. Industrial Merchant saw a strong sequential recovery over the 2nd half of the year, but annual revenue remained down by -7.1%. Healthcare is still fully committed to the fight against the pandemic notably with the supply of medical oxygen, and posted annual sales growth of +7.7%. Electronics posted solid growth of +5.2%.
- With comparable growth up +1.3% in 2020, sales in Europe reached 6,826 million euros. Industrial activities, which were particularly affected by the public health crisis from mid-March, started to recover from the beginning of May and markedly accelerated its recovery during the second half of the year. Large Industries sales were down by -1.0% over the year. Industrial Merchant recovered during the 2nd half of the year, but its annual revenue, which was down -5.6%, remains impacted by the crisis. Healthcare activities were strongly mobilized in the fight against Covid-19, and posted revenue growth of +9.7% over the year.
- Revenue in Asia-Pacific remained stable (-0.1%) in 2020 on a comparable basis, and stood at 4,467 million euros, with all industrial activities posting growth during the 4th quarter. China (+3.4%) brought a strong contribution thanks to a quick recovery across all activities. The recovery was slower in the rest of the region. Large Industries (+0.2%) was driven by the ramp-up of a unit in South Korea. Industrial Merchant (-3.6%) remained sluggish, despite the strong recovery in sales in China during the 2nd half of the year. Electronics (+3.6%) momentum was very dynamic with growth exceeding +10% over the year excluding Equipment & Installation sales.
- Comparable growth was down -2.6% in 2020 in the Middle East and Africa, and revenues reached 564 million euros. Following a customer turnaround at the beginning of the year, Large Industries sales were up during the 2nd half of the year. Industrial Merchant revenue, which was strongly hit by the Covid-19 crisis during the 2nd quarter, saw a return to growth during the 4th quarter. Healthcare is committed to the fight against Covid-19 and posted strong growth across the region.
Healthcare was fully committed to ensuring the supply of oxygen to hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients and posted significant comparable growth of +8.5% for 2020. Electronics also recorded a very solid growth of +3.9% and +7.9% excluding Equipment & Installations sales. Large Industries sales remained stable in 2020 at -0.1% despite the public health context. Industrial Merchant sales were down -6.3% on a comparable basis, negatively impacted by the crisis but supported by solid pricing impacts of +2.6% and growth in several developing economies.
Consolidated Engineering & Construction revenue stood at 250 million euros for 2020, with a sharp increase of +24% in the 4th quarter. Third-party customer sales were down -23% over the year, reflecting the slowdown due to the public health crisis whereas total sales saw a more moderate decline of -9% for the year. Order intake for 2020 reached 820 million euros.
Global Markets & Technologies revenue for 2020 reached 579 million euros, representing growth of +6.0% during a period marked by the public health crisis, driven by the biogas activity. Order intake for Group projects and third-party customers totaled 598 million euros, representing a dynamic increase of +14.3%.
Structural Efficiencies reached 441 million euros for 2020 and largely exceeded the annual objective which had been set at more than 400 million euros. Moreover, exceptional cost reductions under the public health crisis response plan were due to the low level of activity and are not, due to their nature, sustainable in the long-term.
The Group’s operating income recurring (OIR) amounted to 3,790 million euros in 2020, stable as published (-0.1%) but up +3.6% on a comparable basis versus 2019. The operating margin (OIR to revenue) stood at 18.5%, marking a strong improvement of +120 basis points compared with 2019 and of +80 basis points excluding the energy impact. Gas & Services operating margin as published stood at 20.4%, an improvement of +130 basis points compared with 2019, and of +90 basis points excluding the energy impact.
Despite the pandemic, net profit (Group share) amounted to 2,435 million euros in 2020, a significant increase of +8.6% as published and of +11.2% excluding the currency impact. Net earnings per share at 5.16 euros, were up significantly (+8.5%) compared with 2019, in line with the increase in net profit (Group share).
Cash flow from operating activities before changes in net working capital totaled 4,932 million euros, representing an increase of +1.5% despite a slowdown in activity due to the public health crisis, and once again underlining the resilience of the business model. This corresponds to a record high of 24.1% of sales, a marked improvement of +190 basis points compared with 2019. Working capital requirement (WCR) decreased significantly, by 364 million euros compared with December 31, 2019.
Gross industrial capital expenditure reached 2,630 million euros and was stable overall compared with 2019. This represented 12.8% of sales, reflecting strong project developments despite the public health crisis. Proceeds from sale of assets were exceptionally high in 2020 at 800 million euros and notably included the disposal of the Schülke. The net debt-to-equity ratio stood at 55.8%, a marked decrease compared with the end of 2019.
Industrial investment decisions were higher than 3.0 billion euros for the second year in a row despite the challenging public health context. The 12-month portfolio of investment opportunities stood at 3.1 billion euros at the end of December, with several new entries during the 4th quarter. The type of opportunities has changed significantly and the energy transition represents 44% of the portfolio.
The additional contribution to sales of unit start-ups and ramp-ups totaled 191 million euros in 2020 despite the public health crisis. The additional contribution to 2021 sales of unit start-ups and ramp-ups should reach around 250 million euros. The 16 units that are currently being acquired in South Africa should bring an additional contribution estimated at around 100 million euros for 2021 in a first phase, sales should then exceed 400 million euros per year during a second phase, when energy management will be fully integrated, without any significant impact on operating income.
The return on capital employed after tax (ROCE) was 9.0% in 2020. Recurring ROCE stood at 8.6%, stable compared with 2019 despite the decline in business due to the public health crisis.
Air Liquide’s Board of Directors, which met on February 9, 2021, approved the audited financial statements for the 2020 fiscal year. The Statutory Auditors are in the process of issuing a report with an unqualified opinion.
At the next Annual General Meeting, the Board of Directors will propose the payment of a dividend of 2.75 euros per share, up +1.9% compared to prior year and in line with the recurring net profit growth. The ex-dividend date has been set for May 17, 2021 and the payment is scheduled for May 19, 2021. In addition, the Board of Directors has decided to allot again one free share for every 10 shares. This allotment is considered for June 2022.
The Board of Directors also approved the draft resolutions that will be submitted for a vote by the General Meeting on May 4, 2021, notably in order to:
- renew, for a period of four years, the term of office of Mr. Xavier Huillard, an independent Director since 2017, Chairman of the Remuneration Committee and member of the Appointments and Governance Committee. Mr. Huillard will continue to provide the Board of Directors with the benefit of his experience as the head of a large international company and his extensive knowledge of the construction business.
- appoint Mr. Pierre Breber, Mr. Aiman Ezzat and Mr. Bertrand Dumazy as Directors, for a period of four years:
o Pierre Breber is an American citizen and Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of Chevron, where he has held several management positions spanning a career of over 30 years. He will bring to the Board his strong operational and financial skills, and his very international profile.
o As Chief Executive Officer of Capgemini, Aiman Ezzat will bring to the Board his extensive experience in the digital sector, his financial expertise, his knowledge of many industrial sectors, and the perspective of a chief executive from a major international group.
o Bertrand Dumazy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Edenred, will bring to the Board his managerial skills acquired at several companies in both the industrial and service sectors, together with his experience in digital transformation and change management.
The Board stated that it considered Mr. Pierre Breber, Mr. Aiman Ezzat and Mr. Bertrand Dumazy to be independent.
Concerning Mr. Thierry Peugeot, whose term of office as Director is due to expire at the close of the General Meeting of May 2021, the Board, in agreement with Mr. Peugeot who will total 16 years of office on the Board of Directors, agreed, as part of good governance practices, that the renewal of his office will not be proposed to the General Meeting. Mr Peugeot was very warmly thanked for his contribution to the work of the Board of Directors of which he has been a member since 2005, and to the work of Audit and Accounts Committee of which he has been a member since 2012.
At the close of the General Meeting of May 4, 2021, the Board of Directors would accordingly be composed of 15 members: 13 elected members (the vast majority of whom are independent (i.e. 92% of independent Directors), 6 of whom would be women (i.e. 46%) and 7 would be foreign members), and 2 Directors representing the employees.
Finally, the Board of Directors will submit for the vote of the General Meeting the elements of Mr. Benoît Potier’s remuneration for 2020, in his capacity as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, together with the information relating to the remuneration of all the corporate officers. The General Meeting will also be asked to decide upon the remuneration policy for corporate officers applicable to Mr. Benoît Potier and to the Company’s Directors.