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ABB cuts revenue forecast, no major divestments planned

A woman walking past the logo of Swiss industrial group ABB at an office building in Zurich. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

A woman walking past the logo of Swiss industrial group ABB at an office building in Zurich. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Switzerland’s ABB cut its revenue growth target yesterday and said it was accelerating a $1 billion cost savings programme as the company grapples with low oil prices and a slowdown in China.

ABB said it was now targeting average annual growth in revenue of three per cent to six per cent until 2020, trimming a prior goal of four per cent to seven per cent.

It will also speed up a restructuring programme which aims to save $1 billion annually by the end of 2017. The steps are expected to cost $1.2 billion, with half of those costs to be booked in the fourth quarter.

ABB chief executive, Ulrich Spiesshofer, is facing pressure to boost performance from a new activist investor, Sweden’s Cevian, which has accumulated a stake of more than five per cent.

His efforts have been complicated by the slowdown in China and a precipitous fall in oil prices that has dented the company’s sales to customers in the upstream oil and gas sector.

“Global GDP, the oil price and emerging markets that will be lower are the key drivers, said Spiesshofer.

“China is a really difficult environment at the moment.”

ABB is seeking to narrow its profitability gap to what Spiesshofer calls “best in class peers” – rivals like General Electric and those alike.

The shares rose one per cent to 18.74 francs by 0810 GMT, in line with the broader Swiss Market Index.

“The reduction of ABB’s growth targets isn’t a surprise and will hardly have an effect on the share price,” wrote Oskar Schenker, an analyst at J. Safra Sarasin in Zurich, adding that restructuring charges may however trigger downward revisions for this year’s earnings.

Cevian invests in companies in which it sees the potential to double the value of its investment within three to seven years. Since June the shares have lost about 11 per cent of their value.

Spiesshofer said yesterday that Cevian was in “listening mode,” indicating the investor has not so far demanded changes.

As part of the restructuring, ABB will combine its power systems and power products units into one division – giving it four divisions instead of five.

The new Power Grid division will have $12.6 billion revenue, about a third of the company’s annual total, and move ABB closer to its customers as they will just be dealing with one unit, Spiesshofer said.

The company is continuing to review its portfolio, including strategic scrutiny of the new Power Grids division announced on Wednesday, for possible smaller disposals that have characterised Spiesshofer’s tenure as CEO since 2013.

“There’s nothing major in the pipeline at the moment,” he said, adding the company is once again considering acquisitions after a pause in 2014.

“We have a strong balance sheet. The team is ready.”

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