Savola's income surges on foreign operations


Savola Group, Saudi Arabia's largest food products company by market value, returned to profit growth in the first quarter, posting an 82.2 per cent surge in net profit as expansion abroad boosted its revenues.


The firm made SAR250.5 million ($66.8 million; Dh245.82 million), or SAR0.50 per share, in the three months ended March 31, its biggest quarterly profit since the second quarter of 2007.


That compared with SAR137.5 million, or an adjusted SAR0.27 per share, in the same period a year earlier, it said in a statement on the bourse website.


Savola's profit had fallen in the third and fourth quarters compared with the year-earlier periods, partly driven by lower margins in its home market.


First-quarter profit growth was driven by a 33.3 per cent jump in revenues to SAR3 billion, Savola said, attributing the profit growth to its operations outside of the largest Arab economy.


Chief Executive Sami Baroum was not more specific in the statement.


The food company said in January it would seek acquisitions of cooking oil firms in Asia and push into real estate at home after its fourth-quarter profit fell 24 per cent as high commodity prices slashed margins.


In the first quarter, operating profit jumped 54.3 per cent to SAR316.22 million, Savola said, adding it would pay out SAR125 million to investors for the quarter, compared with SAR93.75 million a year earlier.


Savola is constrained in its ability to pass along commodity price rises to consumers and has to shoulder a lot of the increases resulting from tighter subsidies in the country of 25 million people.


The government has ordered price controls in response to rising inflation, which hit a 27-year peak of 8.7 per cent in February.


Savola, the world's largest producer of branded cooking oil, wanted to take stake in cooking oil firms in India, Indonesia and Pakistan, Baroum said in January.


Savola raised to 95 per cent from 70 per cent its stake in an Egyptian plastics company that month. The Saudi conglomerate plans to start a 750,000 tonnes per year sugar refinery in Egypt in May, as well as begin a $140 million (Dh515 million) edible oil plant, Baroum had said.


KSB Capital Group had expected Savola's first-quarter profit to rise 19.3 per cent. (Reuters)