Security and education are key cornerstones of our modern society. They are important preconditions for progress and for preserving core values, including freedom and economic, social and personal development. The security and protection of personal values and data are an essential element in this context. In a rapidly changing world in which misuse of data, currencies or security documents is continually increasing, the need for security and solutions that can be trusted is also growing.
Our comprehensive expertise in serving the security of governments and citizens enables us to offer solutions for protecting values and identities of government and the public. As long-standing partners of government and leading specialists in security technologies and the individualisation of security documents, we set standards and guarantee technologically secure solutions for banknotes, security documents and individual identity documents. We combine technologically highly complex security features with unique expertise in security printing. In the field of education, we are leaders in Switzerland in the world of books. Our range of programmes encompasses a wide assortment of books, educational media and legal specialist media. With forward-looking shopping experiences in our own bookshops and on our digital channels, we provide our customers with access to the world of relaxation, knowledge and education.
The market for banknotes and security documents remained stable in 2019, but pressure on margins increased further due to existing excess capacities in banknote printing. Encouragingly, book retailing in Switzerland grew slightly in 2019. Books therefore held their own well – despite changing leisure habits and media consumption – compared to other classical media such as newspapers, music or the cinema.
At the operating level, Orell Füssli can look back on a solid financial year in 2019. It was characterised by a number of structural changes. The course of business was in line with expectations and we generated net revenue of CHF 237.4 million and operating earnings (EBIT) of CHF 18.2 million (CHF 19.7 million from operations). Against the backdrop of a challenging market, the Orell Füssli Group maintained its operating profitability and continued to reinforce its position of technological leadership. The equity ratio is a comfortable 66.8%.
In the security printing sector the successful presentation of the jubilee note at the Intergraf Conference in Copenhagen and the completion of printing the 9th banknote series for the Swiss National Bank (SNB), together with the acquisition of new orders in the export business, were among the highlights of the year under review. The export business now accounts for 58% of total volume. The current series of Swiss banknotes is now complete with the new 1000-Swiss franc note and 100-Swiss franc note, which were issued in March and September 2019, respectively. The acquisition of various new customers abroad could only partially compensate for the resulting decline in the volume of printing for the SNB. With the objective of being able to offset future fluctuations in printing volumes more efficiently, the Security Printing Division has decided to make further adjustments to its operational and organisational structure while at the same time intensifying its efforts in the field of innovation in order to be able to respond to market demand more flexibly and with new products.
At the Zeiser Division, the reorientation and the associated structural changes have proved to be correct. The steps taken in this context already had an impact in 2019. Following the sale of parts of the business in 2018, operating processes were also optimised and simplified, foreign subsidiaries were closed and work on a new corporate culture was undertaken with employees. Now, as a clearly focused division with a strong brand identity and a large market share in the field of serialising security documents such as banknotes and passports, Zeiser was able to report very good profitability in the past financial year. Orders on hand at year-end were at a high level and Zeiser can look forward with confidence to the year 2020. As to the future, strategic options for the further development of banknote serialisation and the individualisation of security documents are also being examined.
The trend in book retailing was again encouraging in 2019. The business is profitable and growing. Now with 36 sales outlets in 23 towns and cities, Orell Füssli is the largest operator in bricks-and-mortar book retailing in Switzerland. Its market share was further expanded and its position as market leader in Switzerland reinforced by the opening of new branches on Europaallee near Zurich’s main railway station and in the Seedamm-Center in Pfäffikon, as well as a strong presence in e-commerce channels. Orell Füssli Book Retailing has established itself successfully and continues to develop positively on the basis of its multi-channel strategy.
In contrast, Orell Füssli Publishing did not fulfil expectations in the past financial year. After a change in management in August, a transformation programme was drawn up in autumn aimed at giving publishing activities a clearer focus and streamlining the organisation. This programme is currently being implemented.
Another major feature of the past year was the celebration of Orell Füssli’s 500th anniversary. As one of Switzerland’s oldest companies, the book and card-printing house laid the foundation for an enterprise, which is known up to the present day as a leading specialist in complex and high-quality printing processes. The jubilee year featured many activities in which customers, employees, shareholders and guests took part.
Daniel Link took over operational management of Orell Füssli Holding from Martin Buyle on November 1. Our new CEO has many years of extensive management experience with Swiss industrial companies operating on an international scale.
The Board of Directors and the Executive Board continued to pursue the process of strategic analysis in the past financial year. Here it became apparent from the analysis of the «Security and Government» business sector that the demand for online services among the population as well as from companies is high and only partially covered by the existing offering. This was also confirmed by the national e-government survey conducted in 2019 by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. In Switzerland only few government agencies, cantons and local authorities provide information and services electronically. Orell Füssli sees potential here for becoming involved. Successful digitisation in the public domain presupposes a secure and widely accepted digital identity. Trustworthiness is the highest priority in this business. For Orell Füssli such involvement represents a logical further development of its expertise in the field of security solutions for government and the public, such as Orell Füssli has provided for almost 100 years in Switzerland as a partner of the SNB in the field of banknotes or of the federal government for Swiss passports and driving licences.
We have therefore decided to invest as a strategic partner in Procivis AG, a Zurich-based company. Procivis provides us with an entry into a steadily growing ecosystem of digital services based on a secure digital identity solution. Interesting synergies with the Security Printing Division also arise, and Procivis can benefit from Orell Füssli’s experience with government agencies and its strong brand. The e-government technology of Procivis provides the public with direct and trustworthy access to official and private services. The Procivis system is already successfully in use in Canton Schaffhausen, which is the first Swiss canton to have officially introduced a digital identity for its inhabitants.
For the 2020 financial year, we foresee results at a comparable level with 2019 at Zeiser and Book Retailing. At Security Printing, we expect – based on the current product mix in the order backlog – a good first half and markedly weaker earnings in the second half of 2020. For the Orell Füssli Group as a whole we therefore expect net revenue in the current year to be slightly lower than in 2019, with an EBIT margin in the mid-single-digit range. We shall provide information on medium-term planning and targets in the second half of 2020.
Based on the good result for 2019 we shall recommend to the Annual General Meeting on May 20, 2020, that our shareholders approve a dividend amounting to CHF 6.00 per share. We seek to offer our shareholders a regular share in company profits. We are therefore planning to distribute about 75% of free cash flow in the form of dividends also in the future.
In order to simplify the group structure and for the purpose of operational optimization in the administrative area, as well as due to the new legal framework, Orell Füssli Holding Ltd and its wholly owned subsidiaries in Switzerland will merge to form the new Orell Füssli Ltd. Subject to the approval of this year’s Annual General Meeting regarding the amendments to the Articles of Association, this change will come into effect retrospectively on January 1, 2020. The management team of the Orell Füssli Group will be restructured and complemented by the divisional heads of security printing and Zeiser.
We wish to thank our employees in all companies most sincerely for their day-to-day commitment, our customers and partners for their continued loyalty and you, our valued shareholders, for your confidence in the Orell Füssli Group and us.
Zurich, March 2020