Sappi Set for Eight-Year High After Profit Surge on Pulp Prices

  • Net debt reduced for fourth consecutive quarter; stock up 11%
  • Dissolving wood pulp prices seen remaining at high levels

Sappi Ltd. is on track to close at the highest level since 2008 after the South African producer of dissolving wood pulp reported an eight-fold rise in quarterly profit, helped by higher sales prices for the cotton substitute and a weak rand.

The stock gained as much as 11 percent to 76.98 rand, set for its highest close since June 2008, and traded at 76.33 rand at 12:24 p.m. in Johannesburg. Almost 2 million shares traded, more than the three-month daily average.

Sappi is diversifying its production as the demand outlook for glossy paper weakens. Net income for the three months through June rose to $32 million from $4 million a year earlier, the company said in a statement on Thursday. Sappi benefited from higher U.S. dollar prices for dissolving wood pulp, which is used in textiles including lingerie and golf shirts.

The pulp-and-paper maker is also seeking to reduce costs and cut net debt, which declined for a fourth consecutive three-month period to $1.58 billion from a peak of $2.8 billion in the third quarter of 2009. The company is closing in on its debt-reduction target of two times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, Chief Executive Officer Steve Binnie said in a phone interview.

“We’re very, very close to those levels now and hopefully we should get there before the the end of this financial year,” Binnie said.

Brexit Fears

Sappi’s dissolving wood pulp prices are being supported by demand and are expected to remain at current levels in the coming months, Binnie said. Earnings also benefited from lower costs in the graphic paper unit and the weaker rand against the dollar.

Fourth-quarter Ebitda, excluding one-time items, will probably be in line with the same period last year, Sappi said, although a drought in South Africa and the impact of the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union could weigh on the results.

“If the pound remains weak then clearly the players in the U.K. market will need to think about their pricing strategies to offset the currency impact, so we will look at that as well,” Binnie said.

Mondi Ltd., another South African company with its roots in paper, also reported increased profit on Thursday, helped by higher volumes in its consumer packaging business. Mondi, which was spun out of Anglo American Plc in 2007, gets the majority of its revenue from packaging products and continues to seek growth in that market, Chief Executive Officer David Hathorn said. The second half will be impacted by planned maintenance shuts at a number of mills, the company said.

Mondi shares declined 2.1 percent to 279.45 rand, valuing the company at 136 billion rand.

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