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AT&S Prepares for the Upcoming Market Recovery Despite Challenging EnvironmentFebruary 8, 2024 | AT&S
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
AT&S operated in a challenging market environment in the first three quarters of the financial year 2023/24. “After a strong second quarter, demand in the third quarter was once again relatively weak in some market segments. The markets for mobile devices and industrial applications weakened significantly. While notebooks and PCs saw a slight recovery, the market for servers slowed down further. In this environment, we continued to push our efficiency programmes, which we intensified a year ago, to ensure a sustainable optimisation of our company’s cost structure,” says CEO Andreas Gerstenmayer. “In the second half of 2024, a general market recovery is expected in our industry. We can consequently assume that capacity utilisation at our existing plants will improve and we are prepared for the rebound of the market with the go-live of our plant in Kulim, which is scheduled for the end of the year. We will therefore have a good chance to participate in a market recover with our improved cost structures,” Gerstenmayer comments on the company’s perspective.
In comparison with the strong prior-year period, consolidated revenue declined by 19% to € 1,205 million in the first three quarters of the financial year 2023/24 (PY: € 1,489 million). Adjusted for currency effects, consolidated revenue fell by 16%. This development was primarily driven by the fundamental changes in the economic environment. With a less favourable product mix and higher price pressure, revenue in the Electronics Solutions segment fell short of the strong figures of the prior-year period. Due to lower demand resulting from high inventory levels, in particular for servers, as well as an unfavourable product mix and increased price pressure, the Microelectronics segment also recorded a decline.
EBITDA decreased by 36% from € 416 million to € 268 million in the first three quarters. The reduction in earnings is primarily attributable to the decline in consolidated revenue. In order to counter effects such as price pressure and inflation, which result from the currently difficult market situation, AT&S already initiated comprehensive cost optimisation and efficiency programmes in the past financial year. These programmes already made a higher contribution in the first three quarters of the financial year 2023/24 than originally planned. As was the case with revenue, both segments were unable to match the EBITDA figures of the previous year. In the Electronics segment, EBITDA decreased by 39% to € 176 million (PY: € 289 million) due to lower revenue and a less favourable product mix. In the Microelectronics segment, EBITDA declined for similar reasons as well as due to higher start-up costs at the plants in Kulim, Malaysia, and Leoben, Austria, decreasing by 29% from € 128 million to € 91 million.
Currency fluctuations had a positive influence of € 2 million on earnings. Adjusted for start-up costs in Kulim, Malaysia, and Leoben, Austria, EBITDA amounted to € 321 million (PY: € 452 million), which corresponds to a decrease by 29%.
The EBITDA margin amounted to 22.2% (EBITDA margin adjusted for start-up costs: 26.6%), thus falling short of the prior-year level of 28.0% (EBITDA margin adjusted for start-up costs: 30.4%). The margin was supported by the cost optimisation and efficiency programmes and once again by the positive development in the Medical segment – a sector for which AT&S continues to assess strategic options. Depreciation and amortisation increased by € 2.0 million to € 205 million (17.0% of revenue) due to additions to assets and technology upgrades. EBIT fell from € 214 million to € 63 million. Finance costs – net declined from € 37 million in the previous year to € -41 million primarily due to a change in currency effects on cash and cash equivalents. Profit for the period declined from € 221 million to € 7 million, leading to a decline in earnings per share, after interest for hybrid capital, by € 5.49 from € 5.33 to € -0.16.
The financial position as of December 31, 2023 was still characterised by investing activities and the associated financing activities. Total assets increased to € 4,197 million due to additions to assets, up 1% compared to the balance sheet date March 31, 2023. The equity ratio declined by 3.8 percentage points to 24.0% due to the loss for the period attributable to shareholders, the high investment volume and negative foreign exchange effects in other comprehensive income (OCI).
Cash and cash equivalents declined to € 608 million (March 31, 2023: € 792 million). In addition, AT&S has unused credit lines of € 623 million to secure the financing of the future investment programme and short-term repayments.
Opening Ceremony Kulim
On January 24, 2024 the opening ceremony of the Campus in Kulim took place. AT&S Malaysia will produce cutting-edge IC substrates, which are an integral part of high-performance data processors for computers, datacentres and AI infrastructure. AT&S Malaysia will start delivering high-end IC substrates from plant 1 for high-performance AMD data centre processors in 2024, and increasing contributions to revenue can be expected from the beginning of 2025. Plant 2 is wind and water tight and as soon as an improvement in the market environment becomes foreseeable, the necessary steps will be initiated to ramp up this plant.
Expected market environment
The expectations for AT&S’s segments are currently as follows: In the area of mobile devices, where overall market conditions are weak, reduced demand has been, and will remain, a challenge for AT&S. In contrast, the module printed circuit board business continues to develop positively.
Although the Automotive segment is subject to a growth trend as the electronic content per vehicle is increasing, the PCB market is under pressure, among other things due to higher inventory levels along the supply chain. In the Industrial segment, the market is expected to stagnate in 2024.
In the markets for IC substrates, demand for notebooks in 2024 is expected to be slightly higher than in 2023. This should lead to higher demand for IC substrates since inventories have now normalised. However, it must generally be noted that the market for notebooks is highly volatile and subject to significant quarterly fluctuations.
The market for servers is currently still impacted by high inventory levels. The reduction of inventories is proceeding slowly, as an increasing share of investments currently is flowing into high-priced products focusing on artificial intelligence and the volume stagnated. Inventories should have normalised again in the second half of 2024, which is expected to boost demand for server products. Due to the anticipated change in architecture, further changes in the product mix are expected; likewise, the trend towards technologically higher-end IC substrates is also expected to continue.
AT&S expects the market environment to remain challenging with continued price pressure in the fourth quarter of the financial year 2023/24, and persisting high volatility and low visibility. High inflation and interest rates, recession risks as well as geopolitical developments continue to represent additional elements of uncertainty for the end markets. AT&S considers itself well prepared to overcome these challenges with the available technologies, its broad range of customers and applications as well as the successful progress of its efficiency programmes, and to enter the expected phase of market recovery.
Depending on the market development, AT&S will continue to push ahead the investment projects in Kulim and the expansion of the site in Leoben and implement technology upgrades at other locations. In view of the highly volatile environment, the ongoing investment projects will be reviewed at frequent intervals and adapted to the respective current situation if required.
The management is planning investments totalling up to € 1.1 billion for the financial year 2023/24 depending on the market environment and progress of projects.
On January 19, 2024, the company adjusted its revenue forecast for the current financial year 2023/24. AT&S now expects to generate annual revenue of around € 1.6 billion in the financial year 2023/24 (previously: between € 1.7 and 1.9 billion). The EBITDA margin adjusted for start-up costs will be in the expected range of 25% to 29%.
To counter the continued high price pressure, AT&S will continue to drive the previously initiated cost optimisation programmes in the financial year 2024/25. According to market estimates, demand for IC substrates for servers should recover in the second half of the year. In addition, IC substrate production will commence at the new plants in Kulim and Leoben at the end of 2024 and contribute to increasing revenue from the end of the financial year. With the start of production at the two plants, AT&S will continue to further differentiate its customer base for IC substrates.
As usual, the company will provide a concrete outlook for its financial indicators as part of the publication of the preliminary annual results on May 14, 2024.
The progress of the production capacity expansion in Kulim, as well as the expansion of the site in Leoben is still positive despite the challenging global economic situation. Therefore, AT&S assumes that revenue of approximately € 3.5 billion will be generated in the financial year 2026/27 and expects an EBITDA margin in the range from 27% to 32%. The management monitors the currently tense geopolitical situation very carefully in order to be able to respond to developments at any time and to make strategic adaptations.
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