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Forestry giants in Northern Europe, Stora Enso, UPM and SCA, haven’t been affected yet by the coronavirus crisis that currently affects the global forest industry. Financial results of Stora Enso and UPM seem more affected by the recent strikes in Finland, warm winter conditions that affected harvesting conditions, while for SCA, the impact of the coronavirus seems limited at the moment. 

Stora Enso

Finnish forestry firm Stora Enso reported a fall in its underlying January-March profits, and said most of its dividend would be paid out when the company can better estimate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak to its business.

“The first quarter of the year has been marked by challenging harvesting conditions, strikes in Finland and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chief Executive Annica Bresky said in a statement.

The pulp, paper and packaging-board maker said its adjusted operating profit in the quarter to March 31 fell to 180 million euros ($195 million) from 335 million a year earlier, though still beating the average forecast of 137.6 million in a Refinitiv analyst poll.

Bresky said lower prices and volumes during the quarter had had a negative impact on sales and operational EBIT, compared to the record levels in the first quarter of last year.

The company increased the savings target of its profit protection programme to 350 million euros from 275 million earlier by the end of 2021.

“During this first quarter of 2020, we achieved cost savings amounting to 40 million euros, including one-time cost savings,” Bresky said.

Stora Enso said separately it would pay out 0.15 euros dividend per share, and that the remaining 0.35 euros per share of the dividend announced in January would be distributed on the board’s approval when the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic became clearer.

UPM

UPM has so far not suffered from the coronavirus crisis. However, the company was affected by strikes and falling prices during the first quarter.

The forest industry group UPM’s first quarter did not reach the same heights as last year. Compared to 2019, sales fell by 15 percent and the comparable operating profit by 26 percent.

The decline in revenues is primarily due to the fact that the prices of cellulose and paper have dropped noticeably since the spring of 2019, while demand for graphic paper has fallen. In addition, the result is reduced by the strikes in the industrial sector, which affected cellulose and paper operations for two weeks as well as sawing operations for four weeks.

Despite the fact that the quarterly result is a good part of the 2019 comparison period, CEO Jussi Pesonen is pleased with the figures that UPM now presents.

“The pandemic has not affected us so far, not even in China, and our results are strong. Our business areas UPM Raflatac and UPM Specialty Papers show better quarterly figures than ever before. Our financial position is unusually strong, with a positive net cash balance,” says The person in the report.

Due to the new coronavirus, UPM has taken measures to ensure the health and safety of the workers and to ensure that the major strategic projects are progressing according to plan. These include the construction of a new pulp mill in Uruguay and a new bio refinery in Germany.

It is also ready to resort to temporary layoffs or working time reductions if the virus causes disruptions in the business. Although UPM has been relatively successful so far, there is still a risk that the corona crisis will affect the company going forward, says Pesonen.

“For the time being, we are not issuing any forecasts for the full year. Three quarters of the world’s population lives under some kind of coronary-related restriction, which means that the uncertainty about the economic development is unparalleled.”

Demand is still expected to be stable in several product areas, despite the pandemic.

“Many of our products are indispensable in everyday life, and especially in cellulose and specialty papers, demand is expected to be relatively steady. On the other hand, demand for graphic paper, veneers and saw products may suffer from a global recession.”

SCA

The Swedish forestry company SCA reports sales in line with expectations during the first quarter, but declined year on year. Operating profit was lower than expected. Lower selling prices were offset by higher delivery volumes for all product areas compared with the preceding quarter.

The impact on production, deliveries and demand for SCA’s products as a result of the coronavirus has so far been limited. SCA has taken a number of actions to protect risk groups, reduce the spread of the virus and to maintain production and operations.

The supply of wood to SCA’s industries was stable, the company reports. Wood consumption increased during the quarter due to higher delivery volumes in all business areas. The price of pulpwood and sawlogs declined slightly compared with the preceding quarter.

The consumption of solid-wood products remained stable during the period and SCA’s deliveries increased compared with the preceding quarter. However, market prices decreased slightly.

The pulp market improved during the quarter, driven by an increased demand for tissue and hygiene products, SCA’s prioritized market segments in pulp. A price increase was implemented at the end of the quarter, the average selling price however remained lower than the preceding quarter.

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