"Our safety performance is also heading in the right direction. Most of what we can influence ourselves is developing as planned," states president and CEO Eivind Reiten.
"Our improvement measures are producing results and will continue."
Reiten sums up the 2003 results with satisfaction:
"Hydro has delivered earnings per share of NOK 42.60, and the company's profitability and financial performance goals for 2003 have been achieved. Debt was reduced from NOK 34 billion to NOK 20 billion in the course of the year, and the debt/equity ratio is now below 0.4 even when pension obligations are included. Divestments amounting to almost NOK 10 billion have been completed during the past two years. The process to demerge and list Agri on the stock exchange as Yara International is on schedule."
"Our efforts to boost Aluminium's profitability have also produced some good results." It is here, however, that the head of Hydro sees the biggest challenges in the future.
"There are still a number of metal producers in Europe who are delivering results way below Hydro's profitability requirements. In the next few years they will therefore face major challenges. We must intensify our efforts to improve the competitive position of these plants."
"Aluminium markets have shown tentative signs of improvement over the past few months. Primary metal in Asia has led the way, while USA and Europe still lag somewhat behind. The price of aluminium has strengthened, but the effect of this is diluted by a weaker US dollar and relatively tight margins. The market for semi-fabricated aluminium products is improving, most markedly in Asia, but also in the USA, where we can now glimpse some initial indications of an upturn."
He emphasizes that efforts to improve operations are continuing to produce fine results.
"We have witnessed a trend whereby results have steadily improved over the last eight quarters. Production is gradually increasing as new capacity comes on stream, and our metal trading operations are performing well. We are also deriving the benefits of an improved product mix for rolled products. Extrusion operations are performing well, though Automotive is still struggling due to squeezed prices. Our operation in North America has been efficiently tuned and is favorably positioned for the upswing we now believe to be emerging."
High volume earnings for Oil & Energy
"It would be difficult to describe Oil & Energy's result as anything other than very good. Production volume is high. Prices are firm, and the cost picture positive. The only negative element is the fact that we have drilled too many dry wells over the past couple of years," says Reiten.
What he finds most rewarding is that Hydro is not only one of the strongest growing oil companies, but that its production operations are so well managed.
"Such strong growth requires major investments, but it is highly pleasing to be able to invest in an area that is performing so well," he points out.
Reiten explains the high production volume by efficient offshore operations, new production from the major Grane oilfield and several smaller fields coming on stream in the course of the year. He adds that he is also counting on relatively high oil prices in coming months.
Excellent Agri results
Agri turned in some excellent results for the year, the last one with the fertilizer business as part of Hydro.
"Prices at the moment are much higher than in 2002. In addition we have registered a most welcome volume trend, especially in Europe, and an exceptionally high level of activity in the fourth quarter. And our production performance has also been very good," says Reiten, who reckons on sales volumes in Europe being somewhat lower in the first half of 2004.
"These strong results reflect the solid efforts and hard work accomplished throughout the company. With "The Hydro Way" process we have determined our main course and established our values so as to achieve further progress in the years to come."