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Ascom sees its loss narrow in 2002

Ascom is pursuing a drive to return to profitability Keystone Archive

The struggling Swiss technology group, Ascom, has posted a net loss for 2002 of SFr281 million ($203 million).

This content was published on March 26, 2003 - 15:50

The figure is a 30 per cent improvement on the previous year's SFr396 million loss, and the Bern-based company says it plans to further reduce its losses in 2003.

At a news conference in Zurich, Ascom said its net debt had also shrunk last year by 58 per cent to SFr264 million.

The results are in line with analysts' expectations, which predicted net losses for the group of SFr280 million. Ascom itself said its losses would be between SFr280 million and 290 million.

Group sales were down to SFr2.07 billion from SFr3.14 billion in 2001, after Ascom sold off some of its underperforming assets.

The divestments form part of the latest restructuring plan, announced in June last year, aimed at returning the company to profitability.

"I think we have a very good process in place to do the real estate divestment and to conclude successfully the energy division divestment," chairman and CEO Juhani Anttila told swissinfo.

Stable base

"With these two divestments... I think we will have a stable base to develop our remaining portfolio," he added.

Anttila said he was steering the group towards being a global niche player in the wireless and security area, as well as transport revenue collection systems.

"I think these are all global market opportunities where small players like Ascom have a real chance," he commented.

Among other Ascom activities, the group produces paging, alarm and voice communication systems.

It provides security solutions for one in three European prisons and its ticket revenue division encompasses systems for collecting public transport fares, parking charges and road tolls.

Downturn

Ascom, a telecommunications manufacturer, suffered from the downturn in the telecoms market by failing to react quickly enough to international competition in the sector.

The group's share value fell by almost 90 per cent over 2002, and it has fallen by nearly a third again this year.

In December, Ascom appointed Anttila, who has been group chairman since May last year, to oversee the restructuring process as CEO.

As part of its drive to restore profitability, Ascom has been cutting jobs. In January, it announced that a further 500 jobs - 250 of which are in Switzerland - were to go.

Debt

The group also announced that it had secured a finance agreement with creditor banks, in a bid to further reduce its debt.

The deal covers SFr228 million of debt which should be reduced to SFr100 million by the end of May 2004.

"If you go back 15 years, this group had 18,000 people. I think we'll end up with 5,000 to 6,000, but we will be profitable and successful," said Anttila.

"We are not planning any further job cuts at present but obviously, depending on how the world and how the economy develop, we continuously have to look at where we have to adapt our structures further," he added.

Targets

Ascom said that its targets for 2003 included strengthening the balance sheet, further cost cutting, growth in selected markets, further net debt reduction and a significant reduction of the net loss.

"It would be premature and speculative to give an exact figure today but we are confident that we will substantially reduce the losses in 2003," added Anttila.

He added that Ascom aimed to be back in the black in 2004.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Zurich

Key facts

Swiss technology firm, Ascom, has posted net losses of SFr281 million for 2002, down 30 per cent from SFr396 million in 2001.
Ascom's net debt dropped 58 per cent to SFr264 million.
Group sales, however, were down from SFr3.14 billion in 2001 to SFr2.07 billion in 2002.
Ascom launched a major restructuring drive last June to try to restore the company to profitability, after suffering from the downturn in the telecommunications market.

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