More record results for Comet in 2022
Ad hoc announcement pursuant to Art. 53 LR
Outlook for 2023
In FY22, Comet delivered the best result in its history despite a volatile and challenging environment. The strong demand in the semiconductor market in the first three quarters and the tangible recovery in the automotive, aerospace and security markets were met with challenges in managing supply chains, rising material and logistics costs, lockdowns related to China’s zero-COVID policy and trade restrictions. The fourth quarter witnessed the start of a cyclical slowdown in the semiconductor market led by accelerated inventory corrections in the memory segment and exacerbated by U.S. export restrictions targeting customers in China. Despite the volatile environment, Comet maintained its strategic focus, with progress in all three dimensions of the Boost program, namely growth, efficiency, and culture.
The Group generated net sales growth of 14.1% from the prior year to CHF 586.4 million (FY21: CHF 513.7 million). EBITDA operating earnings rose by 15.7% from CHF 102.7 million to CHF 118.9 million. EBITDA margin improved by 30 basis points from 20.0% in FY21 to 20.3% in FY22. Adjusted for a CHF 9.0 million one-time trial expense resulting from the March 2022 litigation to protect its trade secrets against XP Power, EBITDA was CHF 127.9 million with a margin of 21.8%. Net income increased by 15.8% to CHF 78.1 million (EPS: CHF 10.05), from CHF 67.4 million (EPS: CHF 8.68) in the previous year. Free cash flow decreased from CHF 57.8 million to CHF 42.2 million, mainly due to the investment in the consolidation of the San Jose sites in the USA. With an equity ratio of 59.5% and net-debt-to-EBITDA ratio (debt factor) of −0.2, Comet’s solid financial position remains intact.
PCT: Dynamic growth leads to record earnings, weakening towards year-end
The PCT division achieved record growth despite navigating persistent headwinds throughout the year and the start of the current, cyclical semiconductor market correction in the fourth quarter of 2022. PCT expanded margins and delivered an exceptional year against the backdrop of supply chain constraints, inflationary pressures, uncertainty with COVID protocols and U.S. trade restrictions impacting its ability to meet customer demands in China. PCT executed well, leveraging its expanded capacity in Penang, Malaysia, and generated enthusiasm with its launch of its RF Generator platform Synertia®.
With the market launch of the first variants of the Synertia® family of high-frequency generators, PCT has reached a milestone in its strategy to forward integrate into fully-fledged RF power delivery systems. The launch of Synertia® opens-up a market with estimated annual sales in 2025 of well over CHF 1 billion. Outstanding feedback from potential customers as well as promising order expectations for 2023 are witness to the significant market opportunities for these new products. The Synertia® platform coupled with advanced technology matchboxes will offer customers a new level of real-time insight into plasma processes and thus significantly better performance in semiconductor manufacturing than with the systems in use today.
In 2022, PCT reviewed its current production capacities in Flamatt, Switzerland, and Penang, Malaysia, in terms of the ability to meet expected short-term demand and the long-term development of the production footprint. As matchbox production in Penang had already reached a capacity utilization of almost 100% by the end of the year, PCT leased a further 30,000 square feet to be able to meet the expected demand for matchboxes until 2025. With a view to business continuity planning and the long-term development of the geographical footprint of Comet, but especially of PCT, studies were initiated for both a new additional factory to produce vacuum capacitors and for a dedicated site in Penang.
PCT increased sales by 24.6% to CHF 381.4 million, compared to CHF 306.1 million in the previous year. Thanks to the ramp-up of production at the best-cost site in Penang and general measures to reduce costs, PCT achieved 30.4% higher operating earnings of CHF 104.9 million at EBITDA level (2021: CHF 80.5 million). The EBITDA margin thus improved to 27.5%, from 26.3% in the prior year. Adjusted for the one-off expense for Comet’s actions against XP Power to defend Comet’s trade secrets, EBITDA amounted to CHF 113.9 million with a corresponding margin of 29.9%.
IXS: Focus on profitable business, margin recovery in the second half-year
The market segments of the X-Ray Systems division (IXS) developed in 2022 on different trajectories. IXS, like PCT, experienced a slowdown in the semiconductor and electronics industries towards year-end. The recovery in the automotive industry was held back by the lack of component availability. The boom in electric vehicles did not fully compensate for this adverse development. The aerospace industry, on the other hand, continued its upswing and benefited from strongly increased travel activities. Overall, IXS again made good progress in this demanding environment. The streamlining of the portfolio to standard systems is complete; the number of software platforms offered has been reduced to two, and the adjustments in the organization are taking shape.
IXS invested in the development of its product offering enabling its customers to improve their value proposition: an updated version of the proven Cheetah series led to significantly higher productivity and repeatability on account of a significantly re-designed image acquisition chain. VistaX, IXS’ new software platform, will open new horizons in imaging and set new standards in terms of productivity. Finally, IXS won a first contract for battery inspection from a leading global manufacturer of electric vehicle batteries.
In the promising advanced packaging business, the collaboration with a leading company in this space exceeded expectations and showcased that X-ray technology has great potential to address inspection needs in this emerging market. Thanks to achieved product quality improvements, IXS is on a promising path to become an indispensable partner for the semiconductor industry in the coming years.
Due to IXS’ focus on winning higher profitability orders in semiconductor/electronics instead of less profitable volume business and the unfavorable impact from the COVID-19 lockdowns in China in the first half-year, net sales decreased by 6.2% to CHF 130.4 million (2021: CHF 138.9 million). As a result of the lower volumes, the EBITDA amounted to CHF 1.6 million, compared to CHF 8.9 million in the previous year, representing a decrease in the EBITDA margin from 6.4% to 1.2%.
IXM: Excellent sales growth, margins eroded by supply chain bottlenecks
The X-Ray Modules division operated in a robust market environment in 2022. Growth in the battery business, tighter manufacturing tolerances and new inspection requirements are accelerating the demand for inline inspection solutions. The existing technology gaps in inline inspection create excellent market opportunities for IXM's newly launched products, especially in Asia. Volumes in the security market remain at a high level worldwide. In the traditional non-destructive testing markets, for example in the inspection of castings, sales are increasing due to pent-up demand and the return to more robust production. In contrast, the oil and gas markets are developing modestly.
IXM has performed well in all key non-destructive testing and safety inspection markets. New tubes and modules for the semiconductor and electronics industry as well as growing applications in battery testing, additive manufacturing or metrology ensured a high growth dynamic. This was despite noticeable bottlenecks in the supply chains and the effects of the zero-COVID strategy in China. Stable or increasing market shares in the traditional markets and in the semiconductor and electronics industry, respectively, underline the excellent market position and favorable prospects for the division.
Net sales increased by 12.3% to CHF 88.6 million (2021: CHF 78.9 million). EBITDA improved by 2.5% to CHF 15.7 million (2021: CHF 15.3 million). The EBITDA margin decreased from 19.4% to 17.7% mainly due to a complex supply chain landscape that resulted in higher input costs.
At the Annual Shareholder Meeting scheduled for April 14, 2023, the Board of Directors will propose an increased dividend of CHF 3.70 per share (FY21: CHF 3.50). This represents a distribution of 36.8% of the Group’s net income (FY21: 40.3%).
The macroeconomic factors determining Comet’s trajectory in 2023 remain difficult to assess. In addition to the correction in the semi cycle, additional risks complicating planning and business in the current reporting year include escalation of the war in Ukraine, selective bottlenecks in supply chains, rising logistics and energy costs particularly in Europe and the risk of a recession in some of the biggest economies. Furthermore, the U.S. export restrictions for semiconductor equipment to China remains an unknown. Currently consensus expects a decline in chip manufacturing equipment spend of minus 16% to minus 20% in 2023 compared to 2022. In contrast, the outlook for the traditional volume markets of automotive, aerospace and security look promising, although varying in extent by market.
For Comet Group, the start to 2023 will be weaker as the correction in the semiconductor is in full swing. Consequently, for Comet, 2023 will be about successfully bridging the slowdown in its core market, exploiting opportunities in its traditional volume markets, and managing macro-economic risks in parallel. Comet has the financial and organizational strength and flexibility to stay its course in this volatile environment. With the semiconductor market expected to decline in 2023, management has taken proactive measures to reduce variable costs. These measures include short-term plant shutdowns, reduction in temporary workforce and overall prudence in operating expenditures. At the same time, Comet will continue to invest in its strategic initiatives, advancing research and development as planned, commercializing product innovations, expanding capacity, and positioning itself for the next upturn.
Given the limited visibility, a reasonable and reliable forecast for FY23 is currently not possible. Looking at order intake in the first two months, Comet expects a significantly weaker first quarter than in the previous year. As Comet enjoys a more flexible and robust set up today, margins are expected to be higher compared to the correction of 2019. Comet plans to give more color on the outlook with the Q1 trading update scheduled for April 14.
Media and analysts’ conference
The detailed annual figures will be presented today March 2, 2023, at a media and analysts' conference at 1:30 p.m. CET in Zurich, Switzerland (Restaurant Metropol, Grosser Saal, Fraumünsterstrasse 12, CH 8001 Zurich).
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English, March 2, 2023, 1:30 p.m. CET:
For more information, please refer to our online Annual Report available at:
Format of the Annual General Meeting on April 14, 2023
Comet will hold the Annual Shareholder Meeting of April 14, 2023, with physical presence of shareholders in Berne, Switzerland. Further details will follow with the invitation to the meeting.
Definition of alternative performance measures (APM)
Gross profit, gross profit margin: Gross profit is calculated as net sales less cost of sales. Gross profit margin represents gross profit as a percentage of net sales.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA): Operating income as per consolidated statement of income before depreciation on property, plant and equipment & right-of-use assets, amortization of intangible assets and impairment losses.
EBITDA margin: EBITDA as a percentage of net sales.
Net debt: Interest-bearing debt (such as current and non-current debt and lease liabilities) less cash and cash equivalents.
Debt factor: Net debt divided by EBITDA.
Equity ratio: Total equity attributable to the shareholders of Comet Holding AG divided by total assets.
Free cash flow (FCF): Sum of net cash flows from operating and investing activities.
Return on capital employed (ROCE): ROCE is the ratio of operating income less income tax (NOPAT) to total capital employed. Capital employed is defined as net working capital (aggregated amount of net trade receivables, inventories, trade payables, sales commissions, and contract liabilities) plus non-current assets employed (aggregated amount of property, plant and equipment, right-of-use assets and intangible assets).