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Unaxis plunges deep into the red

The semiconductor market is expected to stagnate this year Keystone

The Unaxis technology corporation has reported a net loss of SFr378 million ($320.6 million) for 2004, after announcing a series of profit warnings.

The company said it made an operating loss of SFr366 million, in line with market and its own expectations. Unaxis has been hit by high production costs and unfavourable exchange rates.

The maker of machines used to produce semiconductors, flat-screen displays and DVD coating equipment, has gone through turbulent times, making several management changes designed to put the group back on its feet.

It has launched a far-reaching restructuring programme and wants to focus future core business on thin film and vacuum technology. The company said this unit had developed in a “generally favourable manner” over the past financial year.

But earnings were hit by heavy losses at its displays technology business, which is to be restructured and put up for sale.

Heavy burden

The financial risks associated with display-related projects were significantly higher than expected and placed a heavy burden on the firm’s 2004 financial results, the company said in a statement.

Unaxis, the former Oerlikon-Bührle, repeated that sales rose by 15 per cent last year to SFr1.85 billion, despite a “demanding market environment”.

It said the group remained on course in the majority of its business activities, despite the unsatisfactory financial result.

The board of directors and management said they were convinced that strategic and operative measures introduced to date were laying the foundation for profitable and sustainable development of the group.

Unaxis is forecasting a return to profit this year and aims to complete its restructuring programme by the end of the year, its chief executive told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

When asked if Unaxis would return to black figures, chief executive Harald Eggers said: “We expect that now.”

Organic growth

The company said activities in the core thin film and vacuum technology business were to be broadened and strengthened through geographic expansion, increased organic growth and the development of new areas of application.

It added that there was likely to be stagnation in the semiconductor market this year.

As a result of the heavy loss, the board is to propose to the shareholders’ meeting that a dividend be waived.

But it will suggest a reduction of par value of each Unaxis share from SFr20 to SFr6 and that shareholders in turn would receive a payment of SFr14 per share.

Austrian “corporate raiders” have bought a significant stake in Unaxis this year, sparking speculation that they would make a full takeover bid.

Victory Industriebeteiligung, an investment vehicle owned by industrialist Mirko Kovats and his partner Ronny Pecik, has raised its stake in Unaxis to over 20 per cent this year by buying shares and options.

swissinfo with agencies

Financial figures 2004:

Net loss: SFr378 million ( profit of SFr32 million in 2003)
Sales: SFr1.85 (+15 per cent)
Operating loss: SFr366 million (profit of SFr16 million)
Number of employees at the end of 2004: 6,844

Unaxis announced at the end of November that future strategy would focus on profitable business areas, while the semiconductor equipment segment would be restructured.

At the same time, chief executive Heinz Kundert resigned with immediate effect.

Chairman Willy Kissling said he would not seek re-election at the annual shareholders’ meeting on April 26.

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