INTERVIEW-Securitas reins in M&A to focus on intelligent cameras
STOCKHOLM, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Securitas, the world's No.2 security group, will limit spending on acquisitions as it invests more in labour-saving surveillance technologies that will cut costs for customers and itself in a tough economic backdrop.
Chief Executive Alf Goransson told Reuters the Swedish group was focusing on so-called video analysis cameras, which can register and alert abnormal activity to an alarm centre, and had high hopes for a new service combining guards and "intelligent" cameras which it will start marketing in the first half of 2013.
"That's what will really change this business," he said in an interview on Tuesday.
"You lower the customer's total cost by avoiding a price hike by reducing the number of guard hours from the site, using intelligent technology at a surveillance centre."
Securitas, which lags Britain's G4S by sales, is hoping labour-saving technologies will particularly catch on the United States, where it fears an upcoming health care reform - the Affordable Care Act - could lift guard costs 12-16 percent.
Hit by weak demand in austerity-stricken Europe and a stuttering U.S. economic recovery, Securitas's pretax profit has shrunk for eight quarters. It has lost large contracts in Europe and struggled to offset wage rises with price increases.
"We judge that we will keep wages and price increases in balance in 2012," Goransson said. "Our ambition is to keep the balance also in 2013," he added.
Securitas, which hires out guards for airports, shopping centres and other businesses, has launched plans to reorganise and make savings in Europe and North America.
FRANCE AND SPAIN
Goransson said the North American economy was likely to stay tough next year, but looked a little brighter than in Europe.
"We have a macroeconomic situation in Europe, where we have a very large share of our business, that looks worrying ... France and Spain in particular."
Europe accounts for more than half of Securitas's sales and profit and France is its biggest market there. The French market shrank 2-4 percent this year and would probably do so again in 2013, Goransson said, predicting the Spanish market would fall a further 4-5 percent next year after a 10 percent drop this year.
Securitas would try to hold market shares in 2013 - in Spain and France as well as overall. But in France, as in 2012, it may lose share as it focuses on profitability, he cautioned.
Securitas made as many as 20 acquisitions in 2011, but has reined in its dealmaking this year as it seeks to return to a target of net debt being no more than five times free cash flow.
Even when this has been met, which should be next year, acquisitions would be fewer than in the past, Goransson said.
"When we focus more on technology, that will bind more capital on the balance sheet. That will limit our possibilities to make acquisitions," he said, while declining to say how much money the firm was earmarking for investment.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Mark Potter)