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Schneider eyes asset sales as route to better margins

Electricity components and energy management group Schneider Electric outlined on Thursday a five-year plan to improve its profit margins through cost-saving measures and the possible sale of non-core assets.

It said it was focusing on annual organic revenue growth of between 3 and 6 percent, and on improving returns on its recent investments - a process that it said could involve selling non-core businesses and incurring impairment losses of hundreds of millions of euros.

Schneider, the world's biggest maker of low and medium voltage power equipment, set out its plan through to 2020 in an investor day presentation accompanying its 2014 results.

It said it was targeting adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margins in a range between 13 and 17 percent against 2014's 13.9 percent.

SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC EARNS
Antoine Antoniol | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The firm, which has suffered from slow growth in its core European market in recent years, also promised a share buyback plan of 1 billion to 1.5 billion euros in the next one or two years.

It said it wanted to return to the sort of returns on capital it was achieving before it bought British industrial automation specialist Invensys in 2013 for 3.4 billion pounds ($5.26 billion).

For the current year, it said it was targeting low single-digit growth in revenue and an improvement in profit margins, driven by growth in North America and assuming the current favourable currency effects remain.

It said it expected EBITDA margins of 14 to 14.5 percent this year against 13.9 percent in 2014 where earnings before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation grew 3.2 percent to 3.463 billion euros ($3.95 billion).

"Our new plan is to grow our margins and 2015 will be a first step on that road," finance director Emmanuel Babeau said.

Fourth quarter sales rose 2.5 percent to 6.95 billion euros and the company said it would keep its dividend payout ratio at about 50 percent of net income.