Noble Group was back in the black last year with management expecting further growth in earnings after last year's painful adjustments.
Net profit for the 12 months to Dec 31 was US$8.65 million (S$12.2 million), a major reversal from 2015's US$1.67 billion loss. The earnings improved despite a 30 per cent year-on-year slide in revenue to US$46.53 billion.
But better margins helped offset the impact, with cost of sales and services dropping by 31 per cent to US$45.86 billion, while the share of associates' losses shrank from US$271.51 million in 2015 to US$59.26 million last year.
The year's profit before interest and tax was US$75.09 million, a figure that the commodity firm said would rise further.
"We target an operating income from supply chains of approximately US$1 billion and earnings before interest and tax of about US$550 million," chief financial officer Paul Jackaman told a results briefing yesterday.
This will be achieved partly by cost discipline and balance sheet management, after the "repositioning efforts" last year, he said.
AT A GLANCE
US$8.65 million (versus US$1.67 billion loss in 2015)
US$46.53 billion (-30%)
Noble trimmed its businesses further last year in a push to buffer its strained balance sheet. The sale of Noble Americas Energy Solutions - announced in May alongside the resignation of former chief executive Yusuf Alireza - was completed in December.
Employees were also let go from the firm, with the total headcount dropping from 1,525 at end-2015 to 1,050 last December. These deep cuts were taken as Noble sought to find its footing from the prolonged market turbulence caused by weak commodity prices and allegations of dubious accounting practice around fair value estimates.
Just last week, Iceberg Research - the blog that has been launching intermittent attacks on Noble since early 2015 - released its first posting in over three months to reiterate its claims, following news that Noble and China's Sinochem are in talks over a strategic investment.
Noble's management declined to comment on the potential deal yesterday, instead pointing to several signs of growth amid the still challenging commodity market conditions. These included the increase in gas and power profit before interest and tax, from US$247 million in 2015 to US$419 million. The mining and metals business swung back to a US$87 million profit before interest and tax, following 2015's US$212 million loss.
Meanwhile, the balance sheet was shown to be improving, with the net debt to capital ratio dropping to 42 per cent from 55 per cent at end-2015. The liquidity headroom of US$2 billion, including cash and unutilised but committed facilities, was above the US$1.3 billion bank debt due in 2017.
Loss per share was 0.14 US cent last year, down from the 17.87 US cents loss in 2015, while net asset value was 30 US cents as at Dec 31, down from 50 US cents a year earlier.
Noble shares closed up 2.22 per cent at 23 cents ahead of the results announcement.