By Antonia Kokalova-Gray
In a year marked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the biggest attack on a European country since WWII – traditional geopolitical alignments and economic trajectories were thrown off kilter, not least in front-line Southeast European states, whose energy sectors had historically been heavily dependent on Russia. With energy security and diversification taking precedence, it comes as no surprise that 2022 was a blockbuster year for petroleum and natural gas, and electricity companies.
The oil and gas industry, which includes the SEE TOP 100 lead performer, OMV Petrom, saw its aggregate revenue soar over 92% to 87.2 billion euro, as the war in Ukraine drove a surge in energy prices. The combined revenue of the oil and gas companies in the ranking is double that 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 listed entrants.
The electricity sector recorded revenue growth of roughly 85% to 44.7 billion euro and entered twenty companies in the ranking. Revenue gains stemmed from bumper prices on wholesale markets, which were not counterweighted by increases in costs linked to gas.
Together, the two industries have nine representatives among the top ten companies in this year’s ranking. Also, energy companies made up the top ten in terms of revenue growth. Furthermore, most new additions to the SEE TOP 100 list are energy companies. The subsidiaries of large foreignowned power trading companies Axpo and MET Group impressed with revenue growth in triple digits.
In terms of profitability, however, the region’s electricity, and petroleum and natural gas sectors occupied fifth and sixth place, respectively.
In the power sector, revenue gains were offset by expenditures related to renewables development and grid improvements as well as costs linked to electricity imports or thermal coal use. Unfavourable weather, too, dented the bottom lines of some electricity companies. Droughts led to a drop in the output of hydro power plants, forcing power utilities in Slovenia and Serbia to increase imports of electricity at high prices. In addition, countries like Bulgaria levied tax on windfall profits in the energy sector, using the funds to compensate energy expenses of local businesses.
Windfall profits in oil and gas also spurred tax action from politicians seeking ways to foot high energy bills for household consumers. Profitability in the sector was not commensurate with the revenue spike not least because of bigger production costs, additional investments in improving or developing infrastructure and higher risk-hedging costs due to energy price or foreign currency fluctuations. Still, the petroleum and natural gas industry improved its return on revenue (RoR) to over 5% from 4.4%.
The wholesale and retail companies, which generated the biggest revenue combined two years ago and the second biggest last year, slid to the third place by this indicator in this year’s ranking. Twenty-two sector players generated a revenue of 3.6 billion euro, boosted by soaring inflation and growth in e-commerce. Dominated by supermarket operators Lidl, Kaufland, Carrefour and Konzum, the sector’s return on revenue inched up to just 3.4% from 3.3% and took eighth place in the profitability ranking, unchanged from a year earlier.
Pharma retains lead in profitability ranking
The pharmaceutical industry, represented by only two members in the SEE TOP 100 ranking, grew its comfortable double-digit lead in terms of profitability and upheld its top place for the fourth year running. The pharma sector’s RoR reached 16.25% in 2022, up from 14.60% a year earlier.
This strong performance was driven by a 23% jump in revenue for Slovenia’s Lek to 1.6 billion euro, with rival Slovenian drug maker Krka growing revenue 10% to 1.72 billion euro. However, both slipped lower in the ranking in terms of net profit and Krka took 11th place, while Lek finished 18th.
Telecommunications emerged as the second most profitable sector in the region, moving up one notch from a year earlier. Helped by broadband rollout programmes and an uptick in digital services, telecommunications was among only six out of sixteen industry sectors in the profitability rankings which grew their RoR compared to the previous year. Furthermore, it showed the biggest improvement in RoR, to 9.91% from 5.97%. The sector is represented by four companies, of which three are Romanian operators.
Despite a 15% annual rise in total revenue to 4.8 billion euro, telecommunications dropped to seventh spot from sixth in terms of revenue, outshone by the more lucrative energy, automobile, metals and agricultural sectors.
Boasting a RoR of 7.7%, the metals industry, with five entrants, rounded off the top three most profitable sectors. The profitability indicator in metals, however, eased from 11.9% in 2021, amidst iron shortages and high energy prices.
Romania’s Liberty Galati, part of UK steel magnate Gupta’s GFG Alliance, booked a 10% drop in revenue and swung to a net loss of some 166 million euro. Demand for copper and high global prices propelled Aurubis Bulgaria to eleventh place as its revenue grew by nearly a quarter to 4.2 billion levs. At the same time the company’s net profit surged to a record-high 255 million euro from 149 million euro a year earlier.
Glass, represented in the rankings by Portuguese BA Group’s Bulgarian unit, entered the profitability table again this year, increasing the number of observed industries to sixteen and pushing rubber from fourth to seventh place. In 2022, BA Group Bulgaria significantly boosted output capacity after launching a new furnace for a 60 mln euro investment. As many food and beverage producers recorded a spike in sales in 2022, demand for glass packaging rose, contributing to a revenue growth at the company of 42% year-on-year. However, the glass industry’s RoR was 5.2% in 2022 compared to 6.3% a year earlier. Its place in the table could more plausibly be justified by narrower RoR increases in other sectors.
The high prices for natural gas and supply disruptions caused chemicals to drop to tenth from seventh place. The only chemicals company in the ranking, Johnson Matthey in North Macedonia, recorded a dip in net profit despite a 19% climb in revenue. On the other hand, rubber, which is present in the TOP 100 rankings through Serbia’s Tigar Tyres and Michelin Romania, occupied the seventh spot.
As Ukraine struggled to harvest and export its agricultural producе, the aggregate revenue of the four agricultural companies in SEE TOP 100 – Ameropa Grains, Cofco, Cargill and Viterra in Romania – shot up over 41% to 5.5 billion euro. Agriculture jumped to eleventh from fourteenth place in terms of profitability, with RoR improving to 1.75% from 0.09%.
The automobile industry slipped to thirteenth from eleventh position in the current rankings, its RoR declining to 0.8% from 1.4%, with seven companies among the top 100. An uptick in vehicle production and demand was offset by challenges in the supply of electronic components in an industry where transformation will greatly depend on adapting production to new carbon emissions regulations and the rise in electric mobility.
Transportation was the biggest decliner in profitability in the region, finishing last in this year’s rankings. The sector’s sole representative, Romanian national railway operator CFR, widened its net loss more than tenfold despite a 28% annual revenue increase. This led to the sole negative RoR value, of minus 1.86%, in the overall 2022 industry profitability rankings.