General business overview

Corresponding to the diverse course of the pandemic, Bühler’s business development showed strong variation in the markets and regions. As a Group, we gained financial strength while limiting impact to our performance. We kept profitability at a reasonable level and increased our innovation rate. We look into the future with optimism. We expect a stable trend in the short- and midterm and are laying the ground for future growth.


Managing the Covid-19 crisis has demanded everything possible from Bühler’s employees and leaders in terms of flexibility, creativity, and endurance. The top priority was, and still is, health and safety – not only of Bühler employees, but also of our customers and partners. When the crisis first hit China, we immediately established global and regional task forces to keep our employees safe and our global supply chain running. We managed to keep the number infected employees under control, and thankfully we have not suffered any fatalities.  

From day one, securing the supply and services chain was key to maintaining delivery schedules for our customers. We found solutions for all the challenges we faced thanks to our global production network of 33 factories. Our concept “in the region, for the region” proved to be very robust and we were able to honor all of our contracts without delays. We benefited from our 100 service stations across the globe, as well as from our standardized processes and digital platforms such as myBühler.  

Whenever possible, we switched to digital solutions to ensure continuation of the business and to communicate. Driven by the demand to fill the gap of physical presence, we discovered new, even more efficient procedures. Just two of many examples: we commissioned a large wheat mill in Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) using fully remote, digital support from experts in Switzerland.  

In May, we organized our first Bühler Virtual World as a digital alternative to the Interpack trade show which could not take place in Düsseldorf, Germany. Visitors experienced our 3D solution space, attended a content-rich live program, and entered one-to-one sessions in our virtual conference zone. In both cases, customer feedback was overwhelming.


Gaining additional financial strength

From a financial perspective, protecting liquidity had the highest priority over the course of the year. The goal was to remain independent and strong, while ensuring sufficient cash to repay the first tranche of the bond in 2021. By consistently managing cash flow, net working capital and costs, Bühler succeeded in increasing net liquidity considering the decreased volume and profitability. 

Driven by diligent finance management, operating cash flow jumped from CHF 151 million to CHF 470 million (+211%), and net liquidity soared from CHF 449 million to CHF 749 million (+66.8%). In addition, equity ratio im-proved to 44.2% (previous year: 42.8%). 


Robust business results

On Group level, order intake went down 16.7% to CHF 2.6 billion. Turnover stood at CHF 2.7 billion (-17.0%). Due to strict cost management and margin protection, EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) amounted to CHF 146 million (previous year: CHF 248 million), reflecting an EBIT margin of 5.4% (previous year: 7.6%).  

The 2020 figures are impacted by the development of currency exchange rates, specifically of the Chinese yuan, euro, and US dollar against the Swiss franc. Adjusted for the impact of the foreign exchange rates, the reduction of the top-line versus last year was 13%.    

Strategic investments in our infrastructure and R&D (research and development) remained at a high level. The expenses for R&D were slightly adapted to CHF 139 million (previous year: CHF 149 million), leading to an increase relative to Group turnover to 5.2% (previous year: 4.6%). This is in line with Bühler’s strategy to be an innovation leader in its industries. Over the year, we continued to launch new products and solutions, some of them groundbreaking, such as the new integrated grinding system, Arrius. The first two Carat 560 die-casting machines were built in 2020 and shipped to a customer in Vietnam. The new solution was officially launched to the market in a virtual event held in November. For the automotive industry, the Leybold Optics HIS was introduced, which is designed for mass production of the coating of head-up displays in cars, and the ChromeLine for inline sputtering for chrome deposition, which makes the process more environmentally friendly. 

Following the vast variety of impacts caused by the pandemic, the businesses and regions showed strong variance in performance. Although the overall investment climate was overshadowed, our Grains & Food (GF) business was robust with a limited decrease in turnover of -7.2% to CHF 1.7 billion, as a result of the ongoing demand for staple foods. In contrast, Consumer Foods (CF) including Chocolate, Wafer, and Biscuits, declined by -25.8% to CHF 574 million. Advanced Materials had to accept an even stronger drop of -31.7% to CHF 443 million, caused by the severe weakness of the global automotive industry.  

As a consequence of lower turnover, EBIT went down by 41.3% to CHF 146 million, corresponding to an EBIT margin of 5.4% (previous year: 7.6%). With a tax rate of 24.9% (previous year: 19.5%) and a financial result of CHF 0.3 million (previous year: CHF 2.4 million), net profit was CHF 110 million (previous year: CHF 202 million).  

Along with the divergent course of our businesses, there was also a shift in regional development with a further big step towards a leading role of Asia. While all markets suffered from double digit setbacks, Bühler Asia managed to be quite stable driven by the strong growth of our business in China. Order intake in China rose sharply by 15% for the full year. With regard to turnover, Asia now makes up 35% (previous year: 31%), Europe 30% (30%), North America 16% (16%), Middle East & Africa 11% (14%), South America 5% (6%), and South Asia 3% (3%).  

Structurally, Bühler was able to slightly improve the breadth of its portfolio in 2020. Turnover of Customer Service (CS) and the Single Machine Business decreased comparatively less, resulting in a rise in share from 30% to 33% of total turnover. The e-commerce platform myBühler made a substantial contribution to the CS business. In 2020, the number of active customers increased from 5,500 to 6,600, the orders through the system from 12,800 to 16,400, and the revenue from CHF 41.5 million to CHF 59 million.


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