ARBED S.A. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on ARBED S.A.

Avenue de la Liberté 19

Company Perspectives:

From an ethical point of view, the Group aims at: providing its customers with always better and more reliable products and services; improving the well-being of all its employees sharing common values within the ARBED Group and fostering personal relations within the Group; guaranteeing equitable treatment to all its shareholders; respecting the customs of each country without any national bias and adopting as an international Group a responsible and respectful attitude towards its environment.

History of ARBED S.A.

ARBED S.A., based in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, heads an international group of 189 companies engaged in every aspect of iron and steel production from the mining process to the production of highly sophisticated finished goods. It can be seen as both product and agent of the economic revolution that over the last century has transformed Luxembourg from a small agricultural nation into a major industrial power with its activities centered on the great iron- and steel-producing complexes in the southwest of the country.

The company is comprised of eight business sectors: flat products, wire drawing, long products, engineering, stainless steel, copper foil, sales and trading, and its Brazilian operations. Three-quarters of the group's turnover is accounted for by steel production and related activities. Though it has undergone extensive personnel reductions in the 1980s and 1990s, ARBED remains the Grand Duchy's largest industrial employer. It ranks among Europe's largest iron- and steel-producing groups, with an annual output of more than 11.75 million metric tons.

Early 19th-Century Origins

Iron has a long history in the area that now constitutes the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It was mined by the Celts, then later by the Romans, not only from alluvial deposits in the valleys of the rivers Eisch and Alzette but also from minette, found in the southwest of the region, which was low in iron content and high in phosphorus and whose rediscovery in the mid-19th century gave an impetus to the modern industry and decided its location. Traces have been found in the canton of Esch of underground mining by the Romans, who made charcoal from the wood of local forests to smelt the ore in primitive furnaces, obtaining the metal they then fashioned into arms and armor. After the Germanic invasions the recovery of minette, for which underground mining skills were needed, died out. Iron production based on alluvial ore persisted in the region as a domestic craft, providing household and farm implements during the succeeding centuries as the region slowly and intermittently evolved, despite periods of anarchy, civil war, plague, misrule, and invasion, toward a sense of identity. Smelting plants and forges were set up near sources of charcoal and water power, the first very small-scale blast furnace making its appearance in the region in 1564.

Iron- and steel-making emerged on an industrial scale in the middle of the 19th century, in the region that had been the Grand Duchy since 1815. It is there that the origins of ARBED lie, although the company itself did not come into being until 1911. When the years of adversity came to an end, there were Luxembourgers ready to seize the country's chance at prosperity--businessmen with the drive and confidence to adapt Luxembourg's natural, human, and technological resources to the huge but inconstant market for iron and steel opening up at home and especially abroad, as industrialization gathered pace.

Several circumstances converged to favor an upswing in iron and, increasingly, in steel production: the expanding use of the steam engine which allowed greater freedom in siting and a larger scale of operations; the rediscovery in south Luxembourg of minette deposits that would not be exhausted until 1981; the construction of railway lines linking Luxembourg with the European systems; Luxembourg's entry in 1842 into the German customs union, the Zollverein; and the invention in 1878 by S.G. Thomas and P. Gilchrist of the Thomas-Gilchrist--or Thomas, or basic Bessemer&mdash′ocess, an improvement of the Bessemer converter, permitting elimination of the phosphorus that had hitherto presented problems in the smelting of the phosphoric minette ores of Luxembourg and Lorraine. When, following lengthy initiatives by Émile Mayrisch and Gaston Barbanson, Aciéries Réunies de Burbach-Eich-Dudelange was formed in 1911, it was on foundations laid earlier by a number of iron and steel manufacturers. The latter were mainly Luxembourgers, linked by several family connections as well as by business interests. They had built up three companies, whose resources were now to be combined and directed to modern large-scale production of steel and steel products centered on Esch-Schifflange.

Merger of Three Companies to Form ARBED in 1911

The first of the three companies, already operating and cooperating in close proximity to each other in the southwest of the Grand Duchy and in nearby Germany and Lorraine, was the Forges d'Eich--Le Gallais, Metz et Cie, founded in 1838. It had originated in 1838 when three brothers, Charles, Norbert, and Auguste Metz, who played major roles in Luxembourg industry, politics, and journalism, set up a limited partnership, Auguste Metz et Cie, known since 1865 as the Société des Forges d'Eich--Metz et Cie. In 1879 this company had acquired a license to use the Thomas-Gilchrist dephosphorization process. Its main works were at Dommeldange and Esch-Schifflange, the latter a joint venture started in 1871 by Norbert Metz and Victor Tesch, his cousin by marriage.

The second company, Société Anonyme des Mines du Luxembourg et des Forges de Sarrebruck, had been created in 1856 by Victor Tesch and other Belgians of Luxembourg origin. Its coke ovens and blast furnaces were at Burbach in Germany, northeast of Saarbrücken. The third company, the Société Anonyme des Hauts Fourneaux et Forges de Dudelange, had been established in 1882 by the first two companies in order to exploit the Thomas-Gilchrist process in a steel plant at Dudelange, where the first charge of Thomas steel was blown in 1886. In 1911 the first two companies were dissolved and their assets transferred to the third, whose title was changed to Aciéries Réunies de Burbach-Eich-Dudelange S.A. (ARBED).

By 1911 the first company's original Eich works were of minor importance. At Esch-Schifflange it had four blast furnaces, two of them belonging to the Société des Mines du Luxembourg et de Sarrebruck, and its works at Dommeldange had three blast furnaces and four electric furnaces. The second company's Burbach plant had eight blast furnaces, a steel works, and rolling mills. The third company's property at Dudelange comprised six blast furnaces, a steel works, and rolling mills. All three constituent companies also brought with them the iron ore mining concessions they held in Luxembourg and Lorraine. Between them the companies produced cast iron and Thomas steel; laminated items--semi-finished goods; and sections, girders, rails, and flat bars. With Émile Mayrisch, managing director from 1897 of the Société des Mines du Luxembourg et des Forges de Sarrebruck, as overall technical director of ARBED, the new company proceeded rapidly with its plans for modernization, vertical integration, and expansion.

In 1912 ARBED's annual output of crude steel was around 824,000 tons. Old furnaces, blowers, and other installations were being refurbished or replaced, and new, more efficient equipment was being brought in, notably equipment which utilized waste gases from smelting to power other processes further down the line. In 1913 new installations, including three blast furnaces, started up at the company's Esch-Schifflange and Esch-Belval works.

In April of the same year ARBED protected its coke supplies by forming a contractual association with the Eschweiler collieries--Eschweiler Bergwerks-Verein AG (EBV)--near Aachen, Germany. This move was in keeping with a policy of cooperation with other European firms, designed to ensure ARBED's supplies of raw materials--ore, coal, and coke&mdash well as to find customers for its crude, semi-finished, and finished products and to extend its product range. In 1913 ARBED joined with a Belgian cement-making firm to start a new company, later to become the Société Anonyme des Ciments Luxembourgeois, for their mutual advantage; in exchange for a site near the Esch-Schifflange works, together with a supply of slag and electric current, ARBED would receive cement for its own use at a reduced price.

In 1919, together with the French company Schneider et Cie, ARBED took over all the Luxembourgian and Lorraine iron mines, iron and steel works, including Belval, and wiredrawing works that had belonged before the war to the German company Rhein-Elbe Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks A.G., and set up two linked companies, the Société Métallurgique and the Société Minière des Terres Rouges, of which the first, the Société Métallurgique des Terres Rouges--at Esch-Belval--was to be absorbed in 1937 by ARBED, who acquired a majority holding in the second, the Société Minière des Terres Rouges, in 1954.

World War I Difficulties Persist into 1920s

ARBED was recovering from the setback to its ambitions suffered during World War I. As so often over the centuries, Luxembourg's geographical location had placed it between the hammer and the anvil of contending foreign powers. In spite of its neutral status, guaranteed since 1867, it was invaded by German troops as soon as war broke out, and occupied for the duration. The Grand Duchy has historic, linguistic, and commercial affinities with Belgium and France and with Germany, but the German invasion settled the question of where loyalties should lie in 1914. ARBED's situation was made particularly painful by its ownership of works--Burbach and Hostenbach--in enemy territory. Company policy was to lend as little comfort as possible to the occupying power, while safeguarding as far as possible the survival and future prospects of ARBED and its employees. In the Grand Duchy, after a brief initial shutdown, which the company had offered to prolong if the Luxembourgian government wished, production was resumed by the blast furnaces--four at Dudelange, one at Esch-Schifflange, and one at Dommeldange. Production followed in the steelworks and rolling mills of Dudelange and Esch-Schifflange and in the electric steelworks at Dommeldange. There were shortages of raw materials--fuel, manganese, and lubricants--and of staff, as well as of food. At one point, in 1917, the Germans occupied the factories in an effort to put down a protest strike by hungry workers. The Saar works, Burbach and Hostenbach, were also kept in operation while hostilities lasted, in spite of reduced supplies and the progressive call-up of staff to the German army. Over the war period, in spite of the new installations, ARBED's total monthly steel output dropped from nearly 87,000 tons in July 1914 to just under 50,000 tons in October 1918.

Undercapacity persisted after the war, with continuing fuel and transport problems, plus commercial difficulties arising from Luxembourg's economic isolation, which ended in 1922 with the treaty of economic union with Belgium. Long-term plans proceeded, including the linkage of all the plants located at Esch-sur-Alzette into one huge complex served by its own railway, completed in 1927; by gas-pipes; and by electric cables.

In 1920 ARBED set up a company, the Comptoir Métallurgique Luxembourgeois (COLUMETA), to deal with the sales of its wide range of products. This branch of the group's activities was to flourish and multiply worldwide, with most of the company's sales directed abroad. In 1976 the name COLUMETA was changed to TradeARBED; this company has foreign subsidiaries in 50 foreign countries and in every continent.

Also in 1920, ARBED acquired holdings in the German firm of Felten & Guilleaume, makers of wires, cables, and electrical apparatus; TAMET (Argentina), which produced metal tubes, frames, and bolts; Paul Wurth (Luxembourg) metal constructions; and the Helchteren-Zolder collieries in Belgium. In 1922 it bought a holding in the Belgian nail-making and wire-drawing Clouterie et Tréfilerie des Flandres.

After the death in a motor accident of Émile Mayrisch in 1928, the inter-war technical development of the group's mines and factories was led by Aloyse Meyer. The iron mines in Luxembourg and Lorraine were mechanized and modernized. At the steel works, major additions and improvements were made to installations and processes, with constant adjustments to methods of reducing impurities that were present in the ores or were introduced at the manufacturing stage. Production rose steeply, with peaks in 1929 and 1937. Meanwhile the company continued to provide for the welfare of its employees as it had from the beginning, through its own social services--including training, insurance, pensions, bonuses, and help with housing. Responsibility for some of these services has, of course, been taken over gradually by the state, pensions, for example, in 1931, and family allowances in 1947.

German Occupation Hampers Operations During World War II

In World War II, the Grand Duchy was occupied again, first by German troops, then from August 1940 to September 1944 by Nazi officials. Based on its World War I experience, ARBED had earlier moved out key officials and documents to places of safety, and had obtained legal powers to arrange for its operations to be directed from abroad. Once more production was prudently maintained, at a reduced level, by those who had to stay, working in the face of prolonged hardships and shortages. Output, diminished drastically during the war, ceased entirely for 11 months after the occupation and recovered only slowly from the fuel shortage and transport difficulties that were part of the aftermath of conflict. It was not until 1951 that ARBED reached full capacity once more and achieved production figures--nearly two million tons--that were higher than those of the previous peak years 1929 and 1937.

In the 1950s and 1960s ARBED continued its policy of development and integration within the group. The group expanded through acquisitions and participations at home and abroad--in Europe and South America&mdashmed at securing its supplies and diversifying its steel production. It continued moving downstream in advance of some of its larger and better-known European competitors.

In 1953 it absorbed the Clouterie et Tréfilerie des Flandres and in the following year acquired a majority holding in the Société Minière des Terres Rouges. In 1962 it was a major participant in the setting-up of the Sidérurgie Maritime company (SIDMAR) to construct an important complex, with integrated steelworks and marine terminal, on the Belgian coast.

Geographic and Product Diversification in 1960s and 1970s

In 1965 ARBED acquired a major holding in the Société Anonyme des Hauts Fourneaux et Aciéries de Differdange-St. Ingbert-Rumelange (HADIR), a consortium of Luxembourgian, French, and Belgian companies that had been developing since 1896. The consortium was absorbed completely by ARBED in 1967. HADIR's Differdange works augmented ARBED's Esch complex. In 1911 Differdange had begun to roll Grey beams. In 1959 ARBED's Dudelange works had started producing steel using the LD-AC (Linz-Donavitz-ARBED-Centre) process. ARBED's wire-works were grouped in 1968 to form a new company, ARBED-Felten & Guilleaume Tréfileries Réunies, which, with other later wire-making acquisitions, was to become TrefilARBED in 1974. The 1970s saw the extension of ARBED's activities in several other directions: refractory products; reinforcing wires for car tires; mining operations in Brazil, the United States, and Korea; and mechanical engineering and steel construction. At the end of the 1970s ARBED accounted for a quarter of the Grand Duchy's gross national product. Two important structural measures taken in advance of the world steel crisis of the mid-1970s and 1980s were the establishment of the ARBED Research Centre in 1971 and of ARBED Finance S.A. in 1972, a holding company designed to provide finance for the group. The acronym ARBED S.A. was adopted in 1978 as the company's official name.

In 1975 the Luxembourgian economy went into a long recession caused by many factors: the continuing effects of the 1973 world oil crisis; strengthening foreign competition; inflation; rising wages; fluctuating foreign currencies; and depletion of the country's iron ore. ARBED's crisis lasted until 1984, and ever since then ARBED, like all other European steelmakers, has had to take account of falling demand for steel, increasing use of plastics, growing competition from the developing world, uncertainties about the new eastern European markets, and currency fluctuations.

Rationalization in 1980s

In the 1970s and 1980s overcapacity and financial losses called for vigorous adaptation--organizational, financial, and technological. Competitiveness had to be improved. Over the crisis period ARBED economized by reducing its debts, increasing its share capital, and shedding, without sackings, more than half of its work force, some being redeployed in new industries, others taking the early retirement, at 57 years of age, imposed on steelworkers by the government in 1980.

The company pursued a policy of rationalization. In 1984 the blast furnaces, the steelmaking facilities, and the hot rolling mill at Dudelange closed down. At the same time ARBED needed to invest in new equipment and implement the results of technological research. In 1980 the first continuous caster was commissioned at Esch-Schifflange, and in 1981 the first continuous annealing line went into service at SIDMAR's plant in Ghent.

For a time ARBED was helped by the European Economic Community steel quota system. The Luxembourg government provided some financial support on the restricted scale possible for a small country. When by 1983 ARBED could see the tide beginning to turn again, it was largely the result of the group's own efforts under the chairmanship of Emmanuel Tesch--a descendant of Victor Tesch, one of ARBED's founders. By the end of its boom year, 1989, helped by the peak in the post-crisis upturn of the European steel market, ARBED was able to pay its shareholders their first dividend since 1975.

In the first years of the 1980s the Luxembourgian steel industry had moved back to closer cooperation with Belgium. In 1987 ARBED acquired a three percent share in the Société Générale de Belgique. This holding company holds 25 percent of ARBED's shares while the government of Luxembourg holds 32 percent.

In 1983 ARBED began to detach itself from its group holdings in German steel companies. In 1988 it ended a 75-year association with its traditional supplier of metallurgical coke when Eschweiler Bergwerks-Verein (EBV) joined Ruhrkohle AG. Ruhrkohle, however, is contracted to provide the same service until the beginning of the next century.

In the boom year 1989, ARBED decided to double the capacities of the steel processing works at Galvalange, which produces goods for the construction industry--roofing, flashing, fencing--and for the car and goods vehicle industry--exhaust parts, cabs, and trailers&mdash well as garden tools and parts for domestic appliances such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, and air-conditioners.

The 1990s and Beyond

Along with the European steel industry in general, ARBED faced a number of pitfalls in the early 1990s. A recession combined with sluggish demand and heavy competition from low-priced imports to force prices steadily downward throughout the first half of the decade. Industrywide overcapacity and low productivity only exacerbated these problems. ARBED met these challenges with economical new production methods, alliance-building, and large reductions in employment levels.

Negotiations began in the summer of 1990 between ARBED and the large Belgian steel producer Cockerill Sambre for a partial merger that would pool most of the flat steel-making capacity of Cockerill Sambre's two plants in Wallonia and of ARBED's Sidmar subsidiary in Flanders. The plan fell through at the end of the year, partly because of regional differences between Flanders and Wallonia over possible closures. The failure of this deal did not discourage ARBED from pursuing several international affiliations in the 1990s. In 1990, acting with the Japanese firm Furukawa Electric, ARBED acquired Yates Circuit Foil (USA), which specialized in copper foil and electronic circuits. And in 1991, ARBED forged a distribution pact with Europe's largest steel producer, France's Usinor Sacilor SA.

With domestic coal and iron sources nearing depletion, ARBED began to wean itself from old-fashioned production methods. By mid-1997, the company had converted all its long products capacity from the traditional integrated process using pig iron to electric arc furnaces--known in the trade as minimills--using scrap steel. Since minimills required fewer personnel to produce as much steel, they also helped ARBED increase productivity. The company slashed employment levels in the early 1990s, cutting 2,700 positions in Luxembourg alone from 1996 through 1998. As was its custom, the company utilized government-funded attrition programs like early retirement, retraining, and job placement to achieve the reductions.

In July 1997 ARBED became the primary shareholder in the privatization of Spain's previously government-owned Corporacion Siderurgica Integral (CSI). The Luxembourgian company offered Pta 109 billion (US$832.1 million) worth of its stock (a 9.5 percent stake) in exchange for a 35 percent share of the Spanish steelmaker. It also pledged to invest an additional Pta 156 billion (US$1 billion) in CSI's operations. The affiliation increased ARBED's annual steel output by more than one-third, to over 16 million tons per year.

Although ARBED suffered a LuxFr1.2 billion (US$35 million) loss on sales of LuxFr232.2 billion (US$8.2 billion) in 1996, CEO Joseph Kinsch was optimistic about the company's future, noting growing demand, rising production, and price increases in a review of the first half of 1997.

Principal Subsidiaries: ARES SA (76.29%); Armasteel Belgium SA; Armasteel SA (Belgium); Ets Durieux SA (Belgium; 80%); Ecosider SA; Europrofil Deutschland GmbH (Germany); Europrofil France SA; Europrofil SA; Flamm-Stahl GmbH (Germany); ISPC SA (85.17%); Newco Sarl & Cie Secs; Newco Sarl; ProfilARBED SA (99.99%); ProfilARBED Staalhandel BV (The Netherlands); ABC BV (The Netherlands); Anviroma NV (Belgium); Betonijzer Buigcentrale Limburg BV (The Netherlands); Borotrans Born BV (The Netherlands); Calimco BV (The Netherlands); Kielco Belgie NV (Belgium); Cogeaf BV (Belgium; 95.93%); Demanet-Cassart Aciers SA (Belgium); Ijzerhandel H. Houtappel BV (The Netherlands); ISSCO BV (The Netherlands); Kielco Belgie NV (Belgium); Kielco Nederland BV (The Netherlands); Lamot Tank-Transport NV (Belgium); Lamot Transport NV (Belgium); Leduc Trading NV (Belgium); Limbustaal BV (Belgium); Lommaert Algemene Handelsmij NV (Belgium); Lommaert Walserijprodukten BV (The Netherlands); M Soft NV (Belgium); Metalim NV (Belgium); Montan Staal BV (The Netherlands); Probat Profiel NV; Straalco Overpelt NV (Belgium); ProfilARBED Staalhandel Nederland BV (The Netherlands); STUL-Ste du Train Universel de Longwy Sa (France; 75%); Socadi; Socam Sarl; Stahlwerk Thruingen GmbH (Germany); VALPA-Valenciennes Parachevements SA (France); Brefin Verwaltungs-und Beteiligungs (Germany); Bregal-Bremer Galvanisierungs-GmbH (Germany; 50.1%); Cofrafer SA (France); Decosteel NV (Belgium); Europese Staal Prefabricatie NV Belgium); Laminoir de Dudelange SA; Sidmar NV (Belgium; 71.74%); STAHLwerke BREMEN GmbH (Germany; 67.68%); Sidcenter NV (Belgium); Sidstahl Deutschland Stahlhandels-GmbH (Germany); Sidstahl France SA (France); Sidstahl Luxembourg SA; Sidstahl NV (Belgium); Sikel NV; Al-Center NV (Belgium); Al-Fin NV (Belgium; 88.51%); ALZ Nederland BV; Albufin NV (Belgium); Arbed Americas Inc. (U.S.A.); Arkansas Steel Processing Inc. (U.S.A.); Coil-Tec Inc. (U.S.A.); Considar Inc. (U.S.A.); Excel Trading Corp. (U.S.A.); J & F Steel Corp. (U.S.A.); JBF Commercial Corp. (U.S.A.); JBF Financial Corp. (U.S.A.); MP Pipe Inc. (U.S.A.); PA Pipe (U.S.A.); Skyline Steel Corp. (U.S.A.); TradeARBED Canada Inc. (Canada); TradeARBED New York Inc. (U.S.A.); TrefilARBED Canada Inc. (Canada); TrefilARBED Inc. (U.S.A.); Ultra Metals Inc. (U.S.A.); Arbed International Trading SA; Almetal Beheer NV (Belgium); Almetal Holding NV (Belgium); Brasilux SA; Considar Europe SA (99.23%); TradeARBED Participations Sarl; TradeARBED Schweiz AG (Switzerland); Van Heyghen Recycling NV (Belgium); Circuit Foil Luxembourg SA (75%); Hein Lehmann AG (Germany; 96.31%); Hydrolux Sarl; (99.98%); MecanARBED Dommeldange Sarl; Soberi International NV (Belgium; 72.86%); Arbed Finanz Deutschland GmbH (Germany; 99%); Arbed Information Systems SA; Alinvest NV (Belgium); Allard Gieterij NV (Belgium); Arfilux Sarl; Brussimo NV; Egemin NV (Belgium; 94.33%); Finindus NV (Belgium; 50%); Immobiliere Schlassgoart Senc; Informabel Holding SA (Belgium); KIV-Kempense Investeringsvennootschap NV (Belgium); Luxengrais Sarl (75%); Plastigran NV (Belgium); SA Luxembourgeoise d'Exploitations Minieres; Sidarfin NV (Belgium); Sidfin International NV (Belgium; 50%); Sidinvest NV (Belgium; 76.57%); Sotel STe Cooperative Esch-sur-Alzette (77%); Sibral Participacoes Ltda (Brazil); Flachform Stahl AG & Co KG; Howard E. Perry; Hughes and Spencer.

Additional Details

Further Reference

"Arbed to Shut Electric Furnace for a Month," American Metal Market, January 12, 1996, p. 1.Burgert, Philip, "Arbed Looks to Cut 2,700 Steel Jobs," American Metal Market, April 26, 1996, p. 1.------, "Arbed Reports Loss for 1996," American Metal Market, April 7, 1997, p. 4.------, "Arbed to Pay Spain $832.1M to Get CSI," American Metal Market, July 31, 1997, p. 12.Chomé, Félix, ed., Un Demi-Siécle d'Histoire Industrielle 1911-1964, Luxembourg: ARBED Archives, [n.d.]."Compact Plants Ahead for Europe," American Metal Market, July 19, 1996, p. 14.LaRue, Gloria T., "British Group Moves to Kill Arbed Subsidy," American Metal Market, July 26, 1995, p. 1.Munford, Christopher, "Arbed, Usinor Pursue Tightening Distribution," American Metal Market, December 7, 1993, p. 5.Newcomer, James, The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984.Penson, Stuart, "Arbed Returns to Profitability," American Metal Market, May 12, 1995, p. 3.Regan, James G., "Arbed's Steel Outlook Bright," American Metal Market, May 8, 1991, p. 3.------, "Continent Reflects Arbed, Ilva Woes," American Metal Market, October 7, 1991, pp. 2--3.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: