Sappi First-Quarter Profit Surges to $18 Million on New Products

Sappi Ltd. (SAP), the world’s biggest maker of glossy paper, said first-quarter profit gained 50 percent as it began to see the benefit of investment in new products.

Net income increased to $18 million in the three months through December, compared with $12 million in the same period in 2012, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement today. Sales advanced to $1.5 billion from $1.48 billion the previous year.

Sappi’s debt will probably decline over the next 12 months as the company reduces costs and capacity at loss-making European operations and invests in the production and export of dissolving wood pulp, used to make sportswear and luxury clothing, Chief Executive Officer Ralph Boettger said Jan. 24.

“We continue to generate good returns in the specialized cellulose business, and the dissolving wood pulp market experienced strong demand in an increasingly competitive market,” the company said. “Conditions are generally difficult in the global graphic paper markets, in line with our expectations in Europe and more challenging than anticipated in North America.”

Boettger is leaving Sappi in June because of ill health after almost seven years as CEO. The company has yet to announce a replacement.

Sappi shares fell 0.1 percent to 35.07 rand at the market close in Johannesburg yesterday, valuing the company at 18.3 billion rand ($1.65 billion). The stock has gained 7.1 percent this year, compared with a 3.9 percent decline on the FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index. (JALSH)

Sappi’s focus on exports mean it’s a beneficiary of the weakening South African currency. The rand has declined 5.5 percent against the dollar this year, the worst performer of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kamlesh Bhuckory in Johannesburg at kbhuckory@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Risser at drisser@bloomberg.net

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