INEOS does business differently to others and it pays, especially when it comes to how the business is financed, as the first part of its refinancing deal – sewn up at the end of February – showed. John Reece, Finance Director, takes a look at INEOS financing and 2011 performance.
Sometimes it pays to be different
Much has been written in the world’s media over the years about INEOS and its borrowing, but very little is written about the scale of the organisation, its growth, turnover or earnings (EBITDA).
Yet INEOS’ business model has shown itself time and time again to work very well. It is absolutely right for a commodity chemicals business and means the company remains very much in control of its own destiny. In short, it is not answerable to short-term demands of public shareholders.
John Reece says, “INEOS has always had a choice in how it chooses to fund its business. It could look for finance in the equity market or continue to use the debt market. The difference is that one gives INEOS control; the other doesn’t.”
“To finance INEOS in the equity market would mean we would have to do an IPO,” he said. “And that would mean we would be faced with the typical IPO cycle – each quarter needs to be better than the previous quarter because that is what equity analysts and investors are looking for.”
“And that is very difficult for a cyclical commodity chemical business, like ours, where we are more focused on long-term growth rather than quarter to quarter progression.”
Instead INEOS has always taken the view that if the debt markets are open – and the prices are attractive – then it is a better and more efficient way to finance its business.
And it’s worked well. INEOS has been operating that way for the past 14 years.
At the end of February, INEOS successfully refinanced a large chunk of its borrowing a year before it needed to.
The response from the financial market was better than expected. INEOS had hoped to raise about $1 billion in the bond market but the response from investors was so positive that INEOS decided to increase the amount it intended to refinance because the pricing was so attractive.
“You do have to pick your timing but confidence in INEOS was high and we had very strong demand,” he said.
Most of INEOS’ borrowing is from financial institutions and funds. It stems from 2005 when it took out a series of loans to buy the Innovene business from BP.
Many of those loans are now coming to maturity over the next few years.
INEOS’ big goal for this year is to refinance the remainder of its borrowing (or senior facilities agreement) which amounts to around €2.4bn – when the time is right.
“That’s certainly the plan,” said John.
“We are obviously focused on the cost of the borrowing and we are trying to make sure we do it in a way that reduces our interest cost over time.”
“But you really have to take advantage of the credit markets when they are there because they are very cyclical.”
He said the improving US economy had helped the credit markets in America get off to a great start – and that’s why INEOS had gone out there at the end of January and refinanced the earliest slice of the debt which would have matured in 2013. We now have no significant term debt maturing until 2014.
Financing a business the way INEOS does, though, would not suit every business.
“For a business that is cyclical and that has to be managed over a long time horizon, then it fits very well,” said John.
“For other businesses where the objectives are different perhaps, such as a private equity-backed business looking for an IPO exit, it might be different.”
John said INEOS would only ever consider changing the way it financed the business if the credit markets closed.
“If we could not refinance the borrowing then that would be something we would have to think about but it’s hopefully unlikely to happen,” he said.
A game of two halves - 2011 financial performance
The year 2011 turned into a game of two halves for INEOS; the company had a strong first half, with two record quarters but after the summer Q3 was significantly slower and Q4 ended up as a very weak quarter.
As a company, INEOS expects ups and downs that mirror the global economy. Most recently that has been difficult to predict from one quarter to the next, particularly in Europe.
But the main reasons for the weaker second half lay outside of INEOS’ control.
Apart from losses due to operational difficulties with the feedstock supply in Grangemouth, Scotland, and problems with a contractor in Koln, Germany, the company was hit hard by the Euro crisis and China’s decision to apply the brakes.
“The trading environment in Q4 2011 was challenging,” said John Reece. “The global economic and political uncertainties did affect demand in a number of sectors.”
“And the Chinese government’s action definitely suppressed demand for some of our products in the Far East which led to declining product prices.”
America, though, was a different story.
While the Euro crisis affected businesses across the continent with many buyers seeking to reduce stockholdings – which, in turn, led to weakening demand and reduced operating rates – INEOS North American businesses were able to maintain its good margins because it continued to benefit from using cheaper gas feedstocks and an economy that was growing in confidence.
Trading conditions were solid in North America and its margins remained above mid-cycle. Ethylene derivatives also remained competitive in export markets.
Overall, though, 2011 was a good year, with INEOS Group EBITDA at £1.7 billion – slightly up on the previous year.
And so far this year INEOS is doing well.
“The trading environment at the start of 2012 has improved significantly in comparison to Q4,” said John.
“Over the entire business, the four-week moving average of weekly order volumes for the first four weeks of January was the highest it has been over the past five years.”
INEOS Olefins & Polymers North America’s margins have benefited from the increase in the price of polyethylene, the decline in the cost of ethane and a tightening supply position caused by a heavy plant turnaround season in the industry.
All INEOS Olefins & Polymers Europe’s plants are running well and achieved substantial sales price increases in February.
In chemical intermediates, all four major businesses have also encountered improved trading conditions.
Phenol sales are 20% higher than December with improving margins from tight markets.
Nitriles’ plant operating rates have risen from about 60% in Q4 to almost 100% in February, with prices continuing to move upwards in all regions and demand recovery continuing with supply limited by a heavy turnaround season.
Market conditions for the Oxide business continue to improve too and Oligomers remains solid with good volumes and firm margins.
“It is encouraging,” said John “It puts us in a good position to go back to the markets later this year to complete our refinancing.”