By Nevena Krasteva
As governments lifted pandemic-related restrictions and domestic demand started to recover, companies in Southeast Europe (SEE) closed 2021 with better-than-expected financial results. The top one hundred companies in the region posted a solid rise in sales and a remarkable growth in profits, exceeding the pre-crisis levels. The economic rebound benefitted most the companies operating in the oil and gas, electricity and metals sectors as demand for raw materials and energy jumped. At the same time, lingering supply chain disruptions continued to curb production in various sectors. In particular, for manufacturers of automobiles and car parts, traditionally among the top performers in the region, shortages of semi-conductors remained a pressing issue.
By the second quarter of 2021, as the pandemic was losing its edge, economic recovery was already well underway across the region, with Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia posting 13-16% growth of their gross domestic product (GDP). Capacity utilisation in industry was returning to pre-crisis levels and the services were trying to catch up with growing consumer demand. National governments and the EU continued to pour out billions of euro to spur investments. At the same time, disruptions in supply chains, especially deliveries of Asian-made components, persisted. Inflation was quickening, demand for raw materials and energy was growing and prices were highly volatile. Signs of overheating started to show up across the region. By December, Romania’s industrial producer prices were 33% higher than a year earlier and labour demand in Croatia and Slovenia had reached record highs. For the full year, the countries in the region registered a GDP increase by 8% on average, following a 6% slide in 2020.
Against this backdrop, the SEE TOP 100 companies booked combined revenues of 153.8 billion euro, 28% higher than the total revenues of the entrants in the ranking a year earlier and surpassing by far the 129.3-billion euro level reached in 2019. The rise in profits was even more remarkable – by 83% to 6.4 billion euro. By comparison, the profit of the SEE TOP 100 companies totalled 3.5 billion euro in 2020, 4.7 billion euro in 2019 and 5.7 billion euro in 2018.
The threshold for entry into the SEE TOP 100 ranking too rose. The last entrant booked 699 million euro in sales – an amount which would have put a company at the 76th place in 2020 and at the 43rd position ten years earlier.
In 2021, only nine companies reported lower revenues than a year earlier, as compared to half of the entrants in the ranking in 2020. Eight companies posted a three-digit increase in sales, and one – the Romanian unit of a global grain trader – booked a four-digit growth rate.
Economic recovery pumps up energy companies’ sales
The strong increase in post-pandemic demand lifted the energy companies’ bottom lines, offsetting volatility in prices at the beginning of the year.
The oil and gas industry emerged as the top performer in terms of both revenues and profit, replacing the 2020 winner – the wholesale/retail sector. The oil and gas companies in SEE TOP 100, which a year earlier saw their combined revenue shrink by a quarter as a result of the economic slump, travel bans and low commodity prices, increased their aggregate revenue by 54% in 2021, while profits more than doubled.
OMV Petrom reclaims no. 1 seat
After a seven-year break, Romania’s largest oil and gas producer OMV Petrom returned to the top of the ranking, ousting automobile maker Dacia.
OMV Petrom booked a 60% increase in sales to 6.0 billion euro, well ahead of second-placed Automobile Dacia with 4.4 billion euro. In terms of profit, it ranked second with 546.3 million euro. The oil and gas group attributes its outstanding performance to higher commodity prices and refining margins, excellent asset utilisation and increased energy demand, which offset lower hydrocarbon production, cost inflation and increased upstream taxation. OMV Petrom is active along the entire energy value chain – from exploration and production of oil and gas, to refining and fuel distribution, and further on to power generation and marketing of gas and electricity. OMV Petrom also benefits from the expertise and international exposure of its majority shareholder, Austria’s OMV.
Automobile Dacia, a unit of France’s Renault, slid to the second place in the ranking despite a 17% increase in revenue. In terms of profit, the company ranks 23rd. Like other car manufacturers, its performance continued to suffer from shrunken demand and electronic components shortage.
Hidroelectrica boosts performance ahead of planned IPO
In terms of profit, the leader is Romanian hydropower producer Hidroelectrica. The company ended 2021 with a profit of 614 million euro and a 45% return on revenue on the back of a surge in electricity sales. The company is preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) next year, expected to be the biggest in Romania’s history, in which investment fund Fondul Proprietatea will seek to raise 2 billion euro. Hidroelectrica is 80.06% owned by the Romanian state, while Fondul Proprietatea owns 19.94%. The company has in its portfolio 209 hydro power plants with a total installed capacity of 6,482 MW and a 108 MW wind farm.
Hidroelectrica is not the only electricity company in the region to post excellent results. Slovenia’s GEN-I, the Independent Bulgarian Energy Exchange (IBEX) and JP Elektroprivreda Srbije are keeping it company in the top 10 of the ranking. It should be noted here that the IBEX and two Slovenian companies – Belektron, a trading company with a focus on carbon emission allowances, and energy group Interenergo – posted three-digit increases in revenues.
The spike in demand for metals and the consequent surge in prices was good news for metal companies and three of them – Serbia Zijin Copper, HBIS Group Serbia Iron&Steel, and Romania’s Liberty Galati – are among the most profitable entrants in the ranking.
Oil and gas, electricity and metals companies make up the top ten in the SEE TOP 100, the only exception being Automobile Dacia. Furthermore, half of all new entrants in the ranking are coming from these sectors.
Looking at the new entrants, one company deserves special mention. ADM Romania, a subsidiary of Dutch-registered food company Archer Daniels Midland Europe B.V., which in turn is part of US-based global grain trader ADM Company, increased its revenue almost 19 times last year. ADM Romania is one of the largest port operators in the country, handling grains and non-food commodities such as coal and iron ore, along the Danube and across the Black Sea. It was the second largest grains importer and the sixth largest grains exporter in Romania last year. In 2021, the parent company acquired Serbian soy ingredients provider Sojaprotein and in 2022 it opened an extrusion facility in Serbia to meet rising demand. The company seems set for even more rapid growth in 2022 after global commodity prices hit record highs last year, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine redirected a large part of the traffic in the Black Sea to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta.