Metsä Board’s comparable operating result in 2023 January–December was EUR 122 million

Mika Joukio, CEO, Metsä Board

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January–December 2023 (compared to 1–12/2022)

  • Sales were EUR 1,941.9 million (2,479.6).
  • The comparable operating result was EUR 122.2 million (520.7), or 6.3% of sales (21.0). Operating result was EUR 120.8 million (531.5)
  • Comparable earnings per share were EUR 0.27 (1.13), and earnings per share were EUR 0.27 (1.15).
  • Comparable return on capital employed was 5.1% (20.9).
  • Net cash flow from operations was EUR 342.8 million (232.0).

October–December 2023 (compared to 10–12/2022)

  • Sales were EUR 422.6 million (599.8).
  • The comparable operating result was EUR 0.7 million (100.8), or 0.2% (16.8) of sales.
  • Operating result was EUR -0.2 million (94.7).
  • Comparable earnings per share were EUR 0.01 (0.23), and earnings per share were EUR 0.01 (0.21).
  • Comparable return on capital employed was 0.4% (15.5).
  • Net cash flow from operations was EUR 124.3 million (70.2).

Events in October–December 2023

  • The market situation for fresh fibre paperboards was affected by weakened demand for consumer products and increased import volumes of cartonboard from Asia. In Q4, demand was also weakened by the seasonally slower December.
  • Metsä Board's folding boxboard delivery volumes and average prices decreased compared to the previous quarter. The demand and price situation for white kraftliners remained fairly stable.
  • The company continued its efforts to adjust production to the low demand, and production volumes remained below capacity levels.
  • Efficient working capital management supported a very strong cash flow from operations.
  • Demand for market pulp remained fairly stable, and price levels improved from the previous quarter. Demand in China was stronger than in Europe, where demand was constrained by major production shutdowns by paper and board producers.
  • In Husum, an investment to increase the production capacity for folding boxboard was completed. After the investment, Metsä Board’s total annual production capacity for folding boxboard totals 1.6 million tonnes.
  • In December, Metsä Board signed an agreement for a EUR 200 million domestic corporate commercial paper programme.

Board of Directors’ proposal for dividend

The Board of Directors proposes to the Annual General Meeting to be held on 26 March 2024 that a dividend of EUR 0.25 per share be paid for the 2023 financial period. The proposed dividend corresponds to 94% of the earnings per share for 2023.

Near-term outlook

The global market environment will remain uncertain, and the outlook for the near-term development of paperboard sales continues to be weak. Higher costs of living affect consumers’ purchasing behaviour and may reduce the general demand for consumer products. The value chain is expected to follow the market situation in its inventory adjustment efforts.

Metsä Board’s paperboard delivery volumes are expected to increase in the first quarter of 2024 compared with the previous quarter (10–12/2023: 299,000 tonnes). The sales prices of folding boxboard in local currencies are expected to decrease slightly, and the sales prices of white kraftliners to remain stable.

The company will continue production adjustment measures if necessary, as well as temporary layoffs at its mills in Finland, in 2024.

Less annual maintenance and investment shutdowns will take place at mills in January–March 2024 compared to the previous quarter.

In the first quarter of the year, total costs excluding pulp costs are expected to remain stable. The unstable security situation in the Red Sea may hamper the sea transport of Metsä Board and Metsä Fibre to Asia and increase logistics costs.

Demand for market pulp in China may be affected by several paper and paperboard production shutdowns during the Chinese New Year. In January–March, market prices for pulp (PIX) are expected to improve compared to the previous quarter, especially in Europe. The global supply of long-fibre market pulp is constrained by announced production capacity closures and wood raw material availability problems, especially in North America. The demand and price situation for sawn timber is expected to improve seasonally in the second quarter of 2024.  

Exchange rate fluctuations in January–March 2024, including the impact of hedges, will have a neutral effect on the operating result compared to October–December 2023, and a slightly positive impact on the operating result compared to January–March 2023.

Result guidance for January–March 2024

Metsä Board’s comparable operating result in January–March 2024 is expected to improve from October–December 2023.

Metsä Board’s CEO Mika Joukio:

“In the last quarter, the market situation for fresh fibre paperboards remained weak, with demand further reduced by seasonally slower December. The delivery volumes of our paperboards decreased from the previous quarter to 299,000 tonnes. The decline in volumes was more pronounced for folding boxboards; while white kraftliner sales remained fairly stable. The average selling price of folding boxboard also declined slightly. Our sales amounted to EUR 423 million, and our comparable operating result was EUR 0.7 million. Cash flow from operations in October–December was excellent at EUR 124 million, and our financial position remained strong. At the end of the year, the ratio of interest-bearing net liabilities to comparable EBITDA was 0.7.

Overall, 2023 was a challenging year, with demand for both fresh fibre paperboards and market pulp weakening sharply from the peak levels of the previous year. Rising inflation and higher interest rates have eroded household purchasing power, reducing demand for consumer products and the need for packaging. The decrease in demand led to inventory adjustment measures in the value chain. In addition, the overall market balance for paperboards, especially in Europe, has been affected by the discontinuation of sales to Russia and increased paperboard supply from Asia to Turkey, the Middle East and South America.

In 2023, Metsä Board’s total paperboard deliveries amounted to 1.4 million tonnes (2022: 1.8). However, in a challenging demand situation, we managed to improve the average sale price of our paperboards. Our sales were EUR 1.9 billion (2022: 2.4), and the comparable operating result was EUR 122 million (2022: 521). Our comparable return on capital employed was 5.1%, compared to a record high of over 20% in 2022. We strongly adjusted our paperboard, pulp and BCTMP production to meet low demand. Our performance was also impacted by high cost levels and a significantly lower result from our associated company Metsä Fibre compared to the previous year.

To safeguard profitability, we focused our sales in our main market areas on customers who benefit from sustainably produced premium fresh fibre paperboards. In the second half of the year, we temporarily laid off some of our personnel. Through determined management of working capital, we supported our cash flow from operations, which amounted to EUR 343 million (2022: 232).

At the Kemi kraftliner mill, we completed a development programme to increase the production capacity of the white kraftliner and improve the mill’s energy and water efficiency. Also, the renewal of the folding boxboard production line in Husum will increase our annual folding boxboard capacity and improve the mill’s production efficiency. Metsä Fibre’s new bioproduct mill - the largest investment in the history of the Finnish forest industry - started up in Kemi. During the year, we also implemented our strategic programmes and helped our customers reduce their use of plastics and the carbon footprint of packaging.

The long-term trends driving the growth in demand for premium lightweight fresh fibre paperboards have not changed. Consumers who value sustainability favour renewable packaging materials over fossil-based ones, and many brand owners have announced their targets for reducing the use of plastics in their packaging over the coming years. Our goal is to continue to grow in fibre-based packaging materials and to renew our industrial operations.

Despite the short-term uncertainties, I feel confident about Metsä Board’s future. In our operations and development efforts, we have systematically done the right things, which will have a positive impact on our business in the future. Our strong financial position will support us in this growth.”


Source: Metsä Board


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