By Nevena Krasteva
After an economic rebound driven by strong private consumption, growth in Southeast Europe (SEE) slowed down in 2022 amid geopolitical turbulence and unprecedented volatility on energy markets. Soaring energy prices fuelled inflation, prompting governments to intervene. Declining household incomes and worsening external demand weighed down on all economies in the region but for those less exposed to Russia, such as Romania, Slovenia and Croatia, the impact was not so severe. Despite these odds, the biggest companies in the region booked a record-high increase in revenues, with energy businesses leading the pack.
The total revenue of the SEE TOP 100 companies reached 223.9 billion euro in 2022, up by a record-high 46% as compared to the revenues of the entrants in the ranking a year earlier. The rise in their profit was even sharper, by 61%, to 10.3 billion euro.
The threshold for entry into the ranking also rose sharply in 2022, to 975.6 million euro from 699 million euro a year earlier and more than double compared to 2012. The revenues of the last entrant in the ranking for 2022 would have put it at 64th place in 2021 and at 32nd spot ten years earlier.
Only three companies reported lower revenues compared to 2021, a record low number in the history of this publication.
The year of the energy behemoths
As energy security issues triggered by the war in Ukraine topped the global agenda, oil and natural gas companies recorded an exceptionally good year. Emerging as the biggest sector in the SEE region in 2021 on the back of a strong increase in postpandemic demand, a year later the combined sales of its representatives in the ranking nearly doubled. The aggregate revenue of oil and gas companies exceeded 87 billion euro, twice as much as the turnover of the second biggest sector, electricity. More than a quarter of all companies in the ranking operate in the oil and gas sector, generating 39% of the total revenue of the SEE TOP 100 entrants. Profits also more than doubled, reaching 4.4 billion euro, despite decisions by some governments to cap fuel prices and introduce taxes on windfall profits.
Electricity companies recorded a revenue growth rate of 85%, replacing wholesale and retail as the second largest sector in the region. Higher production and risk-hedging costs, lower output of hydropower plants due to prolonged drought, and expensive imports dented profits. Government policies designed to soften the blow of price hikes on consumers too impacted bottom lines. Nevertheless, electricity companies saw their profits swell to 2.3 billion euro, from 1.1 billion euro posted by the biggest sector players a year earlier.
Twenty electricity companies entered the SEE TOP 100 2022 ranking. Among the new entrants, the subsidiaries of Swiss-based power trading companies Axpo and MET Group booked triple-digit revenue growth. MET Croatia Energy Trade was the fastest growing company in SEE last year as its revenue soared almost eightfold to 1.280 billion euro. Five other energy traders complemented the list of the region’s ten fastest growing companies by revenue in 2022. Despite supply disruptions, energy price spikes and market intervention by governments, companies in these two sectors represent nearly a half of all the SEE TOP 100 companies and nine of the top ten. Furthermore, most new additions to the SEE TOP 100 list are energy companies.
OMV Petrom cements lead
Romania’s largest oil and gas producer, OMV Petrom, retained its top position in the region for a second consecutive year, as high commodity prices pumped up its financial results. High asset utilisation and refining margins enhanced the financial results, offsetting lower hydrocarbon production, cost inflation, as well as increased taxation. Its turnover more than doubled, to 13.4 billion euro, while profit more than trebled, to 2.1 billion euro.
The company, in which Austria’s OMV holds a majority stake, is active along the entire energy value chain from exploration and production of oil and gas, to refining and fuels distribution, and further on to power generation and marketing of gas and power. Its key project, the Neptun Deep, which it is developing together with Romanian natural gas producer Romgaz, is one of the largest gas projects in the EU. The two companies have said they will invest up to 4 billion euro in the development of the offshore project, which will supply approximately 100 billion cu m (bcm) of natural gas, with the earliest anticipated delivery date being 2027.
Like all other energy giants, OMV Petrom is also investing heavily in renewables, aiming to have an installed renewables capacity of at least 1 GW by 2030. In 2021, the company adopted a strategy envisaging 11 billion euro investments by 2030, with about a third of the total to go towards low and zero carbon solutions. OMV Petrom targets a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 and net zero carbon operations by 2050.
Earlier this year, OMV Petrom said it will invest some 74 million euro in the construction of a hydrogen production capacity at its Petrobrazi refinery. Petrobrazi also became Romania’s first refinery certified to produce sustainable aviation fuel.
A fuel retailer, Slovenia’s Petrol, climbed to second place in the ranking from the fourth place after its turnover doubled. In terms of profit, however, it ranked only 65th due to high cost of energy commodities, regulations that limited prices of motor fuels, and tighter purchasing conditions.
Another Slovenian company, state-owned electricity producer Holding Slovenske Elektrarne, took the third place even though it closed the year in the red. A drop in output at its hydropower plants due to drought and the temporary closure of a thermal power plant forced the company to import electricity at high prices, resulting in a loss and the need for a capital injection of 492 million euro from the state to bridge its liquidity gap and enable it to continue production.
EV transition poses challenge for automotive sector
At No. 5, Romania’s Dacia, a member of France’s Renault Group, is the only non-energy company in the top ten. Despite a 20% increase in turnover, it slid three positions from 2021.
Dacia’s performance illustrates the state of the entire automotive sector, which faces growing competition from Chinese manufactures and strong regulatory pressure. By 2035, sales of cars with internal combustion engines will be banned in the EU. The shift to electric vehicles (EV) entails growing production costs, heavy investments in R&D and the need to develop new supply chains. Chinese EV manufacturers, on the other hand, have the advantage of proximity to raw materials allowing them to regionalise their supply chains. Thus, despite an increase in demand, the sector has been ceding ground in the ranking.
The wholesale and retail companies, which generated the biggest portion of revenue in 2020 ago and the second biggest in 2021, slid to the third place by this indicator in 2022. Twenty-two sector players generated a revenue of 3.6 billion euro on the back of soaring prices and a boom of e-commerce. The sector is dominated by foreign-owned supermarket operators Lidl, Kaufland and Carrefour.
Agriculture companies go up
Another sector to climb steadily in the ranking is agriculture, which rose to sixth place from ninth a year earlier and eleventh two years ago. As Ukraine struggled to harvest and export its crops, the aggregate revenue of the four agricultural companies in this year’s edition of SEE TOP 100 – Ameropa Grains, Cofco, Cargill and Viterra in Romania – shot up over 41% to 5.5 billion euro. The highest-placed among them is the Romanian unit of Swiss group Ameropa active in the production and trading of grains and fertilizers. In Romania, the group owns the Azomures fertiliser plant and Constanta Port logistics operator Chimpex.