ABB Maintains New-Order Momentum as CEO's Revamp Bears Fruit

(Bloomberg) -- ABB Ltd. reported quarterly order intake that beat estimates, advancing Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer’s effort to revamp the Swiss industrial giant without succumbing to the demands of activist investors.

“These results will be seen as encouraging, the positive momentum around order backlog is the key,” Morgan Stanley analysts Ben Uglow and Katie Self write in note. “The weight from Power Grids remains a problem, although this can be turned with large orders.”

ABB orders rose 8 percent in the second quarter on a comparable basis to $9.5 billion, Zurich-based ABB said in a statement on Thursday, beating the $9.16 billion estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Its shares rose as much as 5.6 percent, the biggest gain in more than five years.

Oil and gas customers stoked demand as they bought equipment from ABB to automate their brown field assets. An efficiency drive helped Spiesshofer in his quest to bolster profit margins under the company’s current structure. Cevian Capital AB’s calls for a breakup back in 2016 gained renewed attention this month after the Swedish activist’s pressure led to the resignation of Thyssenkrupp AG’s CEO and chairman.

The operational Ebita margin at ABB’s Power Grids business stayed flat compared to last quarter at 9.7 percent, falling short of the target corridor of 10 to 14 percent the company plans to reach in the current financial year.

“Operationally, we are basically within the margin corridor,” Spiesshofer said on a call with journalists. “We are on a good path to transform this business.”

ABB has been realigning its products to accommodate a global shift to renewable power sources but has refrained from making large-scale divestments like Siemens AG’s spinoffs or General Electric Co.’s $20 billion in asset sales. ABB completed its $2.6 billion acquisition of GE Industrial Solutions last month.

With a decline of 12 percent year to date, ABB’s stock is performing much worse than its main competitor Siemens AG, which gained 2.2 percent over the same period.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.