Net sales of the Fiber Composites segment amounted to €208.8 million, a 17.1%drop from €252.0 million in the year-ago quarter and representing 55% of the Group net sales. Net sales were reduced in most business areas due to lower volumes in most products. On the other hand, net sales grew slightly (1.5%) in the Advanced Nonwovens business area from €44.6 million a year ago to €45.3 million during 2009’s first quarter. Meanwhile in the Home and Personal Nonwovens segment, sales were down 14.4% from €65.8 million in the first quarter of 2008 to €56.4 million in this year’s first quarter.
Net sales of the Specialty Papers segment amounted to €170.1 million, accounting for 45% of the Group net sales. Net sales were reduced by 21.6% from €217 million in the first quarter of 2008. Net sales were reduced in both the Release & Label Papers and Technical Papers business areas.
According to Jan Lång, president & CEO, “In the first quarter of 2009, Ahlstrom strongly and successfully retained its long-standing customer relationships. On the other hand, the global recession had a significant effect on our financial performance. A number of initiatives were started to adjust our operations to the changed situation. Despite the challenging environment, we maintained our activity level in developing new products.”
In order to adjust to the weak demand, the company has initiated a further restructuring program with the aim of gaining annual cost reductions of €50 million. In addition, Ahlstrom has increased its emphasis on its operational improvement programs to enhance cost efficiency.
Mr. Lång went on to say that in the Fiber Composites segment, the markets related to the automotive, construction and marine industries were exceptionally challenging due to the decline in these industries, e.g. the Filtration business area suffered from the significant slowdown in the automotive industry. More recently, he said, there has been a decrease of demand for the windmill applications of glass nonwovens materials. On the positive side, market demand for the food packaging and teabag materials as well as for nonwovens in medical applications was close to normal.
At the beginning of 2009, Ahlstrom announced global restructuring plans to respond to the decrease in demand. Several measures are being taken to improve profitability and adjust operations to the challenging market situation. These include the permanent layoff of approximately 200 people, temporary layoffs at production sites as well as the headquarters, cutting down production globally by market-related downtime procedures and closing down non-competitive operations in Italy. One third of the announced permanent layoffs were implemented in the review period.