Look back at…March 2022

Once again, the murderous war in Ukraine continues to be the dominant story. There is no immediate end in sight to this pointless war and the suffering of the Ukrainian people. The fabric of both countries is being torn apart: Ukraine, literally, as Russian forces shell towns and cities and kill civilians; Russia, more figuratively as state disinformation and draconian laws shred the pretence at democracy, plus the economic damage as the sanctions start to bite. 

There is broad support for the Ukrainians from people and businesses, such as this local toy shop, right across the UK.

Beyond the fighting itself, the war is leading to a paradigm shift in the way that the various states align themselves that will affect all of us. For now, this shift is mostly seen in the voting at UN resolutions condemning the war as well as the way that sanctions have been applied. But there is a risk that the world may further split into separate blocs, which may limit the trade between them. Certainly many in the west wonder about China’s intentions, both in terms of continuing to support Russia and its stated intention to invade Taiwan, and this uncertainty is bad for business.

The risk is that the era of globalisation that the end of the Cold War ushered in –  with its easy credit, access to far flung raw materials and cheap labour, and the opening up of new markets – may be coming to an end. The supply chain crisis caused by the pandemic has already given us a glimpse of how badly this will affect us. The situation is exacerbated by the current resurgence of Covid in parts of China, leading to further factory closures. This has meant that many printer vendors are struggling to fill orders or to maintain stocks of spare parts and this issue has also affected new product launches. Most analysts expect this situation to continue into next year and possibly beyond.

However, despite this uncertainty, several press manufacturers have managed to restructure their business as can be seen from those companies that released their full year results for the last year in March. Thus Bobst’s results showed that sales increased from CHF 1.372 billion in 2020 to CHF 1.563 billion in 2021 and that the operating Earnings Before Interest and Taxes rose from CHF 44 million to CHF 99 million. The net result improved dramatically from CHF 17 million to CHF 93 million.

Bobst says that its order entries were 40 percent higher than in 2020 and that the year-end backlog for machines is 80 percent higher than at the end of 2020. In 2022, the Group is currently expecting sales to be in range of CHF 1.7 billion to 1.8 billion and operating result (EBIT) margin to be in a range of 7% to 8%.

Bobst saw its highest growth in southern Europe, followed by the rest of Europe and the Americas. The company saw only modest gains in Asia and Africa compared to the previous year. The most successful application was for corrugated board equipment, followed by folding carton, flexible materials and labels. At the same time, the Services & Performance division saw its orders rise by 15 percent compared to 2020.

For its full results from 2021, Koenig and Bauer reported an 8.5 percent increase in revenue to €1,115.8 million. The EBIT rose from €-67.9m in the previous year to €28.5m, which led to an EBIT margin of 2.6 percent.

Dr Andreas Pleßke, chief executive officer of Koenig and Bauer, explained: “2021 was both a positive and a challenging year for Koenig and Bauer – but together we managed to achieve our annual revenue forecast and to exceed our EBIT target. In addition, we outperformed the industry as a whole. Despite all due caution given the still very uncertain economic outlook, we take this as a sign that we have done a very good job in recent years and that our decision to focus on growth markets, such as conventional and digital packaging printing, is paying off.”

Also in March, Chili Publish raised €10 million in a new round of funding led by Connected Capital. The new financing will be used to accelerate solution and community development, attract new talent, and boost the company’s go-to-market and sales operations in the United States and Europe.

Kevin Goemmine, CEO of Chili Publish.

Kevin Goeminne, CEO at Chili Publish, explained: “Chili Publisher lets brands and agencies simplify and automate on-brand graphic production at scale, saving them time and money in the end-to-end production of that content for both online and offline channels. This investment allows us to grow our solution, team, and community so every professional in any market can create and repurpose professional, on-brand visuals.”

Highcon has raised $18.5 million through a private share placement. Earlier this year the company released an unaudited forecast for its 2021 revenues that showed year-over-year growth of around 70 percent to $14.3 million. The company expected that its recurring revenues from consumables and service also grew by 70 percent year-over-year.  Highcon reported an estimate of 2021 year end cash balances of $23.7 million. Highcon has said that it expects 2022 revenues in the range of $25-30 million. 

Shlomo Nimrodi, Highcon’s CEO, commented: “Highcon has great momentum at the moment, and the capital we are raising today will allow us to continue accelerating and executing our aggressive business plan.”

He added: “We laid the foundations for long term growth in 2021 and are looking to roughly double our revenues in 2022. I’d like to thank the investors for participating and for their vote of confidence in Highcon. We’ll do everything possible to unlock the huge opportunity that awaits us in the packaging market.”

Contiweb, which mainly makes web handling equipment, has acquired WS Print, which manufactures and distributes silicone emulsion, silicone oil and fountain solutions for the printing industry. WS Print, which was founded in 1989, will continue to operate under its own name.

Joost Smits, Contiweb’s CEO, stated: “Contiweb has acquired WS Print because of the strategic fit with our aftermarket and equipment business. By adding these high-quality consumables to the Contiweb product range, we are achieving our vision of transforming Contiweb into an integrated solutions provider. WS Print and Contiweb have a comparable focus on customer performance, technical expertise and operational excellence.”

The Ink manufacturer Hubergroup has announced price rises right across its portfolio of sheet-fed/UV and web offset as well as flexo and gravure products, which will affect all regions.

Heiner Klokkers, CEO of Hubergroup, explained: “The situation on the raw material market is not easing, but instead continues to worsen. The printing ink industry is severely affected by the increased costs for transport and raw materials such as pigments, resins or solvents. To ensure that we can continue to supply our customers with high-quality products in the future, it is unfortunately unavoidable that we reflect the increased procurement costs in the prices of our products.”

Huber Group is headquartered in Munich, Germany

February saw growing concern in the UK over plans by the British government for the licensing of gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (BDO), solvents that are used in printing inks and chemistry. Representatives of the Graphics and Print Media Alliance and various interested vendors met with the British Home Office in March and are now confident that the government will offer a workaround to enable printers to continue to operate as normal.

Brett Newman, Managing Director at UK and Ireland Mimaki distributor Hybrid Services, summed this up by saying: “Given the positive direction in which the discussions are heading, I now believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hybrid Services will continue to work alongside other industry suppliers and the GPMA to jointly lobby the government to protect the industry and ensure that there will be minimal impact on businesses within the print and graphic art industries.”

Lastly, the Ghent WorkGroup has released a new print specification, GWG 2022, which updates the 2015 version. David van Driessche, Executive Director of the Ghent Workgroup and CTO at Four Pees, explained: “The major novelty in GWG 2022 that people will notice is the possibility to improve preflight results by cutting down false positives – preflight errors that are reported but really shouldn’t be because they would never cause production problems. For the application vendors working with GWG 2022, it is mostly the new specification format that makes their life easier”.

Usually I end these stories with a note asking readers to consider donating to help support my work but instead I’d like to point readers to the two appeals that I’m supporting:

The International Red Cross, which does incredible work around the world’s troublespots, has set up a special fund for the Ukrainian crisis and is helping civilians caught up in the fighting there.

The International Federation of Journalists has set up its Ukraine Safety Fund to support Ukrainian journalists and enable them to continue to report on the war, including any war crimes that have been committed.






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