During 2011, we continued to deliver power and automation solutions that help our customers meet the challenges of a rapidly-changing world. Foremost among these are climate change and the need to use electrical energy more efficiently and with less impact on the environment. We achieved this in several ways.
One is a long-term commitment to technology leadership in areas such as high-efficiency power transmission; automation and control systems to manage complex industrial processes using less energy; and technologies to capture the full potential of renewable energies, such as wind and solar power. In 2011, for example, we were awarded orders to connect offshore wind farms to Germany’s mainland power grids, to improve production capacity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s largest offshore oil platform in the North Sea, and to build high power substations in the Middle East to make better use of electricity resources.
Another is our presence in more than 100 countries around the world. This allows us to meet the needs of our customers faster and with solutions that are best suited to their local requirements. It positions us to benefit from the rapid growth expected in the emerging markets in the coming years while also supporting our large and important markets in the world’s mature economies. Furthermore, our geographic scope provides us with access to a large pool of talented and highly qualified people from very diverse cultural and business backgrounds – a key competitive advantage. In 2011, we generated approximately half of our revenues from emerging markets while also recording order increases of more than 10 percent in local currencies in large markets such as Germany, Brazil, the United States, China and India.
A third way is our ability to combine both power and automation technologies into packaged solutions that meet the needs of new growth sectors, such as integrating renewable energy into existing power grids, delivering high-quality “mission-critical” power to data centers and hospitals, and providing the infrastructure needed to rapidly charge electric vehicles. For example, in 2011 we embarked on a project to build a smart grid in Helsinki, Finland; delivered fast direct-current charging stations for an e-mobility project in Hong Kong; and initiated a project to apply direct-current power solutions to a new data center in Switzerland. We view this convergence of power and automation technologies as a long-term trend for which ABB is well positioned.
Economic uncertainties continued in 2011, especially in the second half of the year on increasing concerns surrounding sovereign debt levels in Europe, rising inflation in some emerging economies and signs of economic slowdown in most regions. However, the broad scope of our business portfolio helped us mitigate some of these developments. For example, demand remained steady in several of our later-cycle businesses, such as parts of our Power Products, Power Systems and Process Automation divisions. These businesses depend more on large capital expenditures by our utility and industrial customers that generally come later in the economic cycle. This helped offset the slowdown in demand we saw in the second half of 2011 in some of our early-cycle businesses, such as Low Voltage Products, which are more exposed to consumer demand and construction, and which respond early to decreased economic activity. Our strong positions in fast-growing emerging markets, our flexible global production base and technological leadership, as well as the operational improvements we continue to make in our businesses, also supported our business in 2011.
Foremost among these improvements was the successful reduction of costs to adapt to changing demand. Savings in 2011 amounted to more than $1 billion and were principally achieved in three areas: making better use of global sourcing opportunities; eliminating operational and process inefficiencies; and optimizing our global footprint to match the geographic scope of our business with changing demand patterns, such as rapid growth in emerging markets. Our cost reduction program was key to maintaining profitability in a challenging environment.
In November of 2011, we announced an updated strategy for the period 2011–2015, along with financial targets to measure our success in achieving them. The strategy is based on five priorities:
- Drive competitiveness and stay relevant in our current markets by developing, producing, sourcing and selling to better match market needs, thereby profitably growing the business while increasing productivity and quality.
- Capitalize on megatrends, such as the growing need for resource and energy efficiency, increasing urbanization, electrification, digitization and growth in emerging economies.
- Aggressively expand our core businesses to secure the next level of growth, for example, growing the service business by tapping opportunities in our installed base and by building the software business for our core power and automation customers.
- Execute a disciplined approach to value-creating acquisitions that close key gaps across product, end market and geographic lines.
- Find and exploit disruptive opportunities, such as the application of direct current electricity solutions to improve power efficiency and performance compared to conventional alternating current technologies.
In addition, we provided updated financial targets at the Group and divisional levels to measure our performance. We modified our previous Group operational profitability target to Operational EBITDA as a percentage of operational revenues (Operational EBITDA margin) versus the previous measure of earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) as a percentage of revenues (EBIT margin) – for a full definition see “” section. We believe this more accurately reflects the operational performance of the company during a phase of growth through acquisitions by eliminating some of the non-cash effects on earnings from acquisitions.
In addition, we introduced a new target measure of cash return on invested capital (CROI) that we believe provides a more accurate reflection of our operational performance by focusing on cash returns, which are less prone to non-operational accounting adjustments that may be applied to EBIT from time to time. CROI is defined as the total of net cash provided by operating activities and interest paid, as a percentage of capital invested. Capital invested is defined as the total of fixed assets, net working capital, and accumulated depreciation and amortization. At the divisional level, we continued our previous practice of providing organic revenue growth targets on a compound annual growth rate basis as well as profitability targets in the form of Operational EBITDA margins.
The long-term outlook for ABB remains positive, with utilities continuing to invest in grid upgrades and industries spending more on automation solutions to increase energy efficiency and productivity.
Macroeconomic volatility makes short-term forecasts more challenging. There are signs of recovery in the North American economy and China appears to be returning to a focus on growth, while uncertainty around government budget deficits in Europe remains high.
From the perspective of ABB’s short-term business development, management expects low single-digit growth in most of its early-cycle businesses until confidence in the macroeconomic outlook improves. Price pressure is expected to continue in parts of the power business, in line with the company’s previous guidance. The unfavorable business mix seen in most divisions in the fourth quarter of 2011 is expected to continue into the first quarter of 2012, weighing on margins. This trend is not expected to continue over the rest of the year. Management will continue to drive further improvements in cost and productivity going forward.
At the same time, our strong order backlog and continued customer investments in areas such as power distribution and oil and gas, as well as our exposure to fast-growing emerging markets, are expected to provide ample opportunities for profitable growth in 2012, and we will continue to expand sales forces and accelerate product development in order to capture these opportunities.