BASF sees further challenges from China, oil price this year

Ludwigshafen (Germany) (AFP) –


BASF, the world's biggest chemicals company, said Friday that slowing growth in China and falling oil prices will remain its biggest challenges this year after they weighed on business in 2015.

"The turbulent start to the year on the raw material and stock markets shows just how many uncertainties there are in an outlook for 2016," BASF's chief executive Kurt Bock told the group's annual earnings news conference.

"The year has begun subdued, mainly due to a weak volume development in China," Bock said.

Achieving the group's 2016 targets would be "an ambitious goal in the current volatile and challenging environment, and is particularly dependent on the development of the oil price," he added.

Last year, "growth rates for the global economy, industrial production and the chemical industry all lagged considerably behind our expectations," BASF complained.

Largely as a result of falling oil and gas prices, net profit slumped by 23 percent to four billion euros ($4.4 billion) and underlying or operating profit was down 8.4 percent at 6.7 billion euros on a 5.2-percent drop in reveues to 70.5 billion euros.

In concrete terms this year, group sales were projected to "decline considerably, especially as a result of the divestiture of the gas trading and storage business."

And underlying profits were expected to be "slightly below 2015 levels."

In September, BASF agreed with Russian gas behemoth Gazprom to go ahead with an asset swap the two had put on ice amid tensions between Russia and the West.

Under the deal, BASF's subsidiary Wintershall will obtain shares in a western Siberian gas field.

In exchange it will hand over its stake in their joint venture gas storage and trading business, plus a stake in an oil and gas exploration unit in the North Sea.

Despite the cautious outlook, however, BASF said it planned to increase the dividend payout to shareholders by 0.10 euros to 2.90 euros per share for 2015.