Stora Enso has said that higher costs would be likely to squeeze its margins in 2023, after the Finnish forestry group produced its strongest annual results in more than 20 years, although profit declined in the fourth quarter.
"Stora Enso enters the new year with market softness and variable cost pressures which are expected to be more challenging in 2023 than in 2022 weighing on our results this year," the company said in a statement.
The company booked some €185 million in losses last year from the sale of its Russian operations, which it announced in April and in May. The Russian exit also reduced its fourth-quarter profitability by €20 million, compared with a year ago.
Packaging Solutions Division
Sales at the group's packaging solutions division fell 16% year-on-year due to the Russian exit, but the company said it expects to expand its packaging operations this year, following the acquisition of Netherlands-based De Jong Packaging Group.
"Regarding our exit from Russian market, the minor outstanding transactions that we expected to finalise in 2022 have taken longer to conclude than originally anticipated", a company spokesperson told Reuters.
The company expects to conclude them in 2023, without further significant financial impact, the spokesperson said.
Sales in the fourth quarter rose 5%, but operational earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) decreased 17% to €355 million from a year earlier. This was lower than the €403 million expected by analysts in a company-provided poll.
Credit Suisse said that guidance of lower y/y operational EBIT was no surprise but near-term pressure added incremental negative colour.
Stora Enso expects demand for its containerboard to be hit by weak consumer confidence and lower private consumption, while a construction slowdown will negatively affect demand for sawn wood.
'Compared to 2022, group margins are expected to be squeezed by increasing costs, particularly in relation to energy, wood, and chemicals, and Stora Enso has said that higher costs would be likely to squeeze its margins in 2023 after the Finnish forestry group produced its strongest annual results in more than 20 years, although profit declined in the fourth quarter,' the company said.
It is negotiating with employees in Finland on potential furloughs at its wood products and packaging materials divisions among other measures to adjust capacity, the company added.
Stora Enso's board of directors proposed a record high dividend of €0.60 per share, following the company's highest annual operational EBIT since 2000, at 1.89 billion euros for 2022.