Financial summary for the quarter: •Profit for the period US$17 million (Q1 2012 US$45 million) •EPS 3 US cents (Q1 2012 9 US cents) •Operating profit excluding special items US$73 million (Q1 2012 US$100 million) •Net finance costs of US$42 million (Q1 2012 US$54 million) •Net debt US$2,095 million (Q1 2012 US$2,175 million)
Operating profit excluding special items of US$73 million was in line with our expectations given generally lower selling prices for pulp and paper. This compares to an operating profit excluding special items of US$100 million in the equivalent quarter last year and US$118 million in the quarter ended September 2012.
Our North American coated paper business performed well, with increased coated paper sales volumes partially offset by lower average sales prices which were 3% when compared to the equivalent quarter last year. Release paper sales volumes were markedly higher than in both the equivalent quarter last year, and the prior quarter. Average sales prices, whilst stable compared to the prior quarter were below those of the equivalent quarter last year. The North American business was however negatively impacted by lower pulp prices, which were 5% lower than the equivalent quarter last year, and 3% lower than the prior quarter. Sales volumes were also lower in both comparative periods, partly due to a planned increase in pulp inventories at the Cloquet mill ahead of the conversion to dissolving wood pulp.
Despite tough market conditions in Europe during the quarter and depressed industry volumes year-on-year, in the case of mechanical coated paper by as much as 7%, the European paper business achieved sales volumes for the quarter equal to the equivalent quarter in the prior year. During the quarter we experienced strong downward pressure on pricing for all graphic paper grades, and average graphic paper sales prices were 2% lower than in the equivalent quarter last year. The coated specialities business continues to perform well, with increased sales volumes and stable to increasing price movements compared with the equivalent quarter last year.
The Southern African business posted similar results to the prior quarter despite the impact of the three-week road transport strike which spilled over into the first quarter. However, compared with the equivalent quarter last year, it was a weaker quarter due to lower sales volumes, lower average prices in the Specialised Cellulose business and higher variable costs. The Specialised Cellulose business generated an EBITDA excluding special items of ZAR351 million, representing an EBITDA excluding special items margin of 28%. The Southern African paper business further improved their performance, compared both to the equivalent quarter last year and the prior quarter. While sales volumes were lower predominantly due to the restructuring of the business and resultant machine closures, sales prices were higher for both local and export sales.