Sales up, but margins slip

Walstead reports on 2022

Walstead prints for a host of leading brands and media groups
Walstead prints for a host of leading brands and media groups

Net sales at Walstead Group were up 11% last year, but operating margins slipped in the face of “huge and volatile” increases in input costs at the pan-European business.

The group – which has 14 production facilities across the UK, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, and Germany – has announced headline figures ahead of the filing of its full results.

Gross revenue in calendar year 2022 increased by 19% to €648.9m (£560.6m), while net sales excluding paper were up 11% to €391.7m.

Adjusted operating profit was flat at €17.2m, which resulted in operating margins slipping from 4.87% to 4.39%.

The average number of employees was slightly down, at 3,232 (2021: 3,276).

2022 was a seismic year for Walstead's business in the UK. The collapse of YM Group resulted in Walstead becoming the only multi-site web offset printer running high pagination 64/72pp presses. This, and the subsequent announcement of an orderly shutdown of the Prinovis UK gravure site, saw the group win a number of substantial new contracts, some of which transferred during 2022.

Walstead Bicester printed the recent landmark issues of the Beano and Radio Times, but also recently learned that its contract to print the National Trust’s Handbook would be coming to an end.

It also spent €12m on acquiring most of YM Group’s equipment, which resulted in capex increasing to nearly €30m, compared to €21.9m the prior year.

Walstead chairman Mark Scanlon described the results as “good” in the face of “an extremely challenging business environment”.

“Walstead once again proved itself to be resilient in the face of the sternest stress tests following on from the very difficult Covid years and the continuation of the previous year’s escalating gas and electricity costs which were exacerbated by the Ukraine crisis.

“We were exposed to huge and volatile market increases for these supplies but were fortunate to have loyal and understanding customers who accepted additional charges to enable us to partially recover the array of significant price increases we incurred on our raw materials.”

He noted that paper shortages in H1 2022 when there was a long-running strike at UPM, accompanied by a doubling of paper prices, had “forced print buyers to reassess their 2022 volumes” and had resulted in clients turning to alternative channels.

By the end of last year paper prices had dropped because of a combination of lower energy costs and lower capacity utilisation at the paper mills.

“There is, of course, the positive prospect that print marketing budgets will revert to previous levels, but in the meantime, Walstead has cut its cloth, and we will reconcile our customers’ demand with appropriate manufacturing capacity that delivers sustainable margin and profit.”

Net debt was down 5% at €114.1m, while the external net debt ratio was deemed “healthy” at 0.9x, up from 0.8x in 2021. Walstead had €82m available at the year-end.

The group has expanded further via acquisition this year, with the takeover of Gotha Druck in June, which could add around €60m to sales.

Walstead also owns pre-media and creative production business Rhapsody.