If GrafTech International were a bard, it could wax poetic in an ode to the electrode. The company is a leading maker in the US of graphite electrodes, which are essential to the production of electric arc furnaces. GrafTech also manufactures advanced carbon materials, flexible graphite products, flow field plates, gas diffusion layers, and carbon electrodes and refractories for the aeronautics, construction, energy, fire protection, marine, and transportation industries. Customers have included such notable names as Arcelor Mittal, BaoSteel, Elkem, and Griffin Wheel (railroad wheels). In 2015 GrafTech was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management, an investment firm.
The company services customers in about 70 countries through its 18 manufacturing facilities located on four continents. It currently has the capacity to manufacture approximately 195,000 metric tons of graphite electrodes annually. GrafTech gets about 75% of its total sales from outside the US.
GrafTech has two reportable segments: Industrial Materials (77% of total sales) and Engineered Solutions (23%). The products are marketed under brand names such as GRAFOAM, SPREADERSHIELD, eGRAF, GRAFOIL, and GrafPower, among others. Industrial Materials comprises graphite electrodes and refractory products. Graphite electrodes act as conductors of electricity and are used primarily in steel manufacturing to generate sufficient heat to scrap metal in electric arc furnaces. Refractory products include carbon and graphite refractory bricks, which are used for their high thermal conductivity.
Engineered Solutions comprises advanced graphite materials and natural graphite products. Advanced graphite materials include primary products, which are sold to customers for further processing (such as steel railroad car wheels). Natural graphite products consist of flexible graphite and electronic thermal management solutions used in electronics, power generation, automotive, petrochemical, and transportation industries.
Sales and Marketing
The company sells its products primarily through a direct sales force, independent sales representatives, and distributors to a range of sectors including aerospace, defense, electrochemical processes, glass and ceramics, semiconductor manufacture, and oil and gas exploration.
GrafTech has suffered three straight years of revenue drops and two straight years of net losses. Revenues fell 7% from $1.17 billion in 2013 to $1.09 billion in 2014. It posted net losses of $27 million in 2013 and $285 million in 2014. The company’s operating cash flow, however, has increased over the last three years, climbing by 4% to $121 million in 2014 due to a reduction in inventory and accounts receivables.
The decline for 2014 was fueled by a major decrease in the company’s Industrial Materials segment, which was affected by decreasing selling prices of electrodes in 2014, along with lower pricing in its needle coke business. The Engineered Solutions segment had lower sales due to pricing and volume declines in products serving the advanced consumer electronics markets.
The loss for 2014 was driven by increased research and development expenses and selling and administrative expenses. One of the major factors affecting the loss was the impairment of long-lived assets and goodwill, which cost the company $197 million due to a goodwill impairment charge of about $76 million during monitoring of its needle coke reporting unit.
GrafTech is dependent on the health of the steel minimill, transportation, semiconductor, solar, petrochemical, and other metal industries. The company strives to keep costs low so it can ride out the cycles of the market. It has also grown its product portfolio and augmented its technology through acquisitions.
After suffering net losses for fiscal 2013 and 2014, GrafTech has announced a cost-saving plan of around $90 million for the next year. The company will also downsize corporate functions by approximately 25% and relocate to a smaller, more cost effective corporate headquarters within northeastern Ohio.