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Mittal feels chill from China slowdown

Lakshmi Mittal warned that the slowdown in China was casting a further shadow over a "fragile" global economy, after announcing that ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker by sales, slid into a third-quarter net loss.

November 01, 2012 / 03:12 PM IST

Lakshmi Mittal warned that the slowdown in China was casting a further shadow over a "fragile" global economy, after announcing that ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker by sales, slid into a third-quarter net loss.


The chairman, chief executive and main owner of the company also said it would cut dividend payments for next year as it attempts to conserve cash and reduce debts to allay fears about high borrowings.


Mr Mittal said the "very challenging operating conditions" for the company would continue into the fourth quarter, with this view providing few indications of any solid upturn in 2013.


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Steelmaking has been among the hardest hit among large industries by the subdued global economic conditions that have remained in place since the financial crisis.


ArcelorMittal said its net loss for the three months to the end of September came to $709m, as against net income of $659m in the equivalent period last year.


Sales in the third quarter declined 18.5 per cent compared with last year to $19.7bn.


The last time the company made a quarterly net loss was in the final three months of 2011 when the net loss came in at $1bn.


The move on dividends means payments will slide from 75 cents a share this year to 20 cents a share in 2013. This will cut Mr Mittal's dividend income from the 41 per cent of ArcelorMittal that he owns from about $473m this year to $130m.


Mr Mittal said the company was continuing to look for ways to cut its borrowings through efficiency improvements and a plan of "asset optimisation" built around disposing of surplus assets.


A worrying sign for the company, however, was that net debt rose by $1.2bn from the end of June to $23.2bn at the end of September, partly due to extra requirements for working capital linked to weak demand.


ArcelorMittal wants to reduce the net debt to $22bn in the next two months, in an effort to reduce any worries by banks and bond holders that the company might run into difficulty over repayments, particularly if cash flow stays weak.


The company pointed out that at the end of september it had $13.4bn in cash and other instruments capable of being converted into cash, while its scheduled debt repayments next year are less than $4bn.*


ArcelorMittal said that earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in the third quarter came to $1.3bn, well down on the $2.4bn recorded in the July-September period last year.


Many steel observers believe ebitda represents the best way of following underlying demand and supply trends in the sector.


The company now expects ebitda for the whole of 2012 to come in at about $7bn, against $10.1bn last year.


The third-quarter ebitda number was the lowest quarterly ebitda for ArcelorMittal for three years.


ArcelorMittal's large European operation making flat steel continued its run of operating losses, with an operating loss of $385m for the most recent quarter.


This part of the company has chalked up a total operating loss for the first nine months of 2012 of $823m, as against a net income of $245m for the same period in 2011.


In efforts to reduce debt, ArcelorMittal is exploring the sale of a stake in a large Canadian iron ore business, in a move that could lead to the company gaining $3bn in exchange for selling a share of about 30 per cent.

*This article has been updated since original publication to clarify the company's cash position.

first published: Oct 31, 2012 01:58 pm

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