Commenting on 1st quarter sales, Benoît Potier, Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide, stated:
« The first quarter of 2020 showed modest growth despite the gradual spread of Covid-19 around the world beginning in January and the implementation of business continuity plans by nearly all Group entities.
Sales reached 5.4 billion euros, of which 5.2 for Gas & Services, an increase of +1.1% on a comparable basis. The resilience of sales reflects the solid business model of the Group, characterized by the diversity of its markets and its geographies, as well as by the significant proportion of long-term contracts in its business portfolio. Gas & Services and Global Markets & Technologies progressed, while Engineering & Construction sales fell sharply, mainly reflecting the postponement of construction projects for third party clients to a later date.
In Gas & Services, which accounts for 96% of Group sales, growth was particularly strong in Healthcare (+10%) and Electronics. From a geographic perspective, Europe and the Americas continued to post sales growth, while the Asia-Pacific region was more penalized by the public health situation, particularly in China.
In the context of a global health emergency, the Group is mobilized. It is taking an active part in the international support effort, whether this entails supplying healthcare facilities with medical oxygen or ventilators, having committed to producing 10,000 ventilators in 50 days in France. In addition, a stepped-up cost containment program has been initiated to surpass the annual target of 400 million euros of efficiencies. In the 1st quarter of 2020, 91 million euros of efficiencies were generated.
The cash flow is high, at more than 22% of sales. The Group has also strengthened its position in terms of liquidities with a 1 billion euro bond issue in March that was widely oversubscribed.
The quarter’s investment decisions remain high at more than 700 million euros. The total amount forecast for the year is maintained, as part of a highly targeted approach. These investments will contribute to future growth and to reinforcing the Group’s efficiency.
In terms of the health and economic environment, the most widely held hypothesis today is that the second quarter will be highly impacted by the crisis, followed by gradual relaxation of lockdown measures between the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter, depending on the continent. Assuming this hypothesis, and given our solid business model and the additional measures rolled out in 2020, Air Liquide is nonetheless confident in its ability to further increase its operating margin and to deliver net profit close to the 2019 level, at constant exchange rates. »
Electronics enjoyed very solid growth of +3.6% (+9.8% excluding Equipment & Installations), driven by very dynamic sales in Carrier Gases and Advanced Materials.