FRANKFURT, April 29 (Reuters) - German auto supplier and technology company Robert Bosch on Wednesday said it expects automotive production to fall by at least 20 percent this year, as the coronavirus pandemic slams the brakes on factory production lines and saps demand.
"We are bracing ourselves for a global recession that will also have a considerable impact on our own performance in 2020," Bosch CFO Stefan Asenkerschbaumer said in a statement.
"Given the many imponderables, we feel unable to make a reasonable forecast for the Bosch Group for the year as a whole. It will take a supreme effort to achieve at least a balanced result."
To cut costs, Bosch has pushed out timeframes for making investments, reduced working hours for half of its staff in Germany and imposed salary reductions. Managers and executives are taking a 20 percent pay cut in April and May.
"Even if production has been ramped up again in China, and European industry is preparing for a ramp-up of its own, we have to steel ourselves for a severe global recession over 2020 as a whole," the company said.
In January, before the coronavirus had become a global pandemic, Bosch warned that global car production may have already reached its peak and released preliminary full-year earnings which showed weaker demand in Asia.
Bosch sales remained almost flat at 77.7 billion euros ($84.3 billion) last year, but earnings before interest and taxes fell 38 percent to 3.3 billion euros ($3.6 billion), down from 5.4 billion euros a year earlier, with the EBIT margin dropping to 4.2 percent from 7 percent in 2018, it said.
In the medium term, Bosch plans to return to a roughly 7 percent margin from operations.
The EBIT margin in its mobility services division, which includes automotive parts, fell to 1.9 percent last year as the Stuttgart-based supplier was forced to invest in the shift from combustion-engined to electric cars and to restructure its business.
Research and development expenditure amounted to 6.1 billion euros ($6.6 billion), or 7.8 percent of sales, Bosch said.
Group sales have continued to show weakness, dropping by 7.3 percent in the first quarter with the Mobility services segment showing a 7.7 percent decline.
Separately, Bosch said it will be capable of producing half a million face masks a day after using its special purpose machinery unit to build a production line for masks.
Robert Bosch ranks No. 1 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers, with worldwide sales to automakers of $49.5 billion in 2018.