2021 was another successful year for SIX, despite the challenges and uncertainties that recurring waves of COVID-19 continued to inflict on society and financial markets. Operating income totaled CHF 1.5 billion (+8.9%), EBITDA CHF 421.7 million (+14.8%). The non-operating result fell year-on-year due to significant one-off effects in 2020 and 2021. EBIT were accordingly lower (–71.4%), Group net profit amounted to CHF 73.5 million.
With recurring waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was in many ways an extrapolation of the previous financial year. For the first time, the Spanish units acquired by SIX in mid-2020 contributed to the Group’s income for a full 12 months. Operating income amounted to CHF 1,498.3 million. The year-on-year increase of 8.9% was above all due to the fact that BME’s contribution in the comparison year 2020 was incorporated into the income statement only as of June.
All four business units performed well, although they were differently impacted by various external factors – not least in connection with the ongoing pandemic. Despite a general recovery of the global economy and a global demand that grew stronger and stronger over the course of the year, uncertainty increased again in late 2021, when a new wave of the pandemic disrupted supply chains and fueled inflation. Consumer prices in advanced economies escalated to 10-year highs, but central banks were cautious about tapering stimuli, and kept interest rates low. Market volatility remained high by historical standards, although it did not reach the record levels of 2020.
All four business units of SIX performed well in 2021.
While equity trading on the stock exchanges did not reach the unprecedented volumes of the previous year, the economic environment was still favorable for the Exchanges and Securities Services business units. As of 1 January 2021, these units consist of the combined businesses of SIX in Switzerland and BME in Spain.
Compared to the previous year, both stock exchanges of SIX saw a growing number of IPOs again – including the first ever SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) listing in Switzerland. Settlement transactions and deposit volumes, in particular, benefitted from the activity in the market and from high index levels. The Swiss Market Index SMI reached new all-time highs, ending the year 20.3% above 2020. The IBEX-35 in Spain grew 7.9%. As volatility levels dropped below the extraordinary peaks of the previous year, trading activity stabilized on the exchanges resulting in a year-on-year decline in trading turnover. Additionally, trading in Swiss equities on platforms outside of Switzerland was resumed in the UK following the restoration of stock exchange equivalence between Switzerland and the UK in February 2021. The market share of SIX in Swiss equity trading consequently dropped from almost 100% in 2020 to an average of 70.2% in the fourth quarter 2021.
In its data business, SIX was able to increase sales in the year under review, thereby continuing the targeted turnaround in the Financial Information business unit. As in previous years, the core business with reference data, pricing data, and corporate actions contributed the most to the unit’s operating income, and grew in 2021. Revenue from tax and regulatory services increased for another successive year. In February 2021, SIX expanded its offering in ESG and alternative performance data by taking a majority stake in Orenda Software Solutions. In July, SIX completed the acquisition of international index and ETF data specialist Ultumus, therewith expanding its data offering in the fast-growing ETF trading market.
In the payments sector, the decline of cash usage that started with the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020 continued in 2021, negatively affecting revenues of SIX in the Banking Services business unit. However, the very low card transaction numbers due to the pandemic at the beginning of 2021 recovered during the course of the year and were able to offset the negative corona effect on the business unit’s income from cash processing. Electronic billing continued to grow as well: With a good half of all Swiss households using eBill in the meanwhile, the platform recorded a new high of over 50 million transactions in 2021. Overall, the business unit recorded an increased operating income compared to the previous year, which was even more strongly affected by the pandemic.
*excl. corporate functions
SIX has a growth strategy aiming at more volumes on its infrastructure and a broader international reach. Investments in selected organic and inorganic growth initiatives therefore remained a focus of SIX in 2021. This included, for example, the go live of SIX Digital Exchange (SDX), the further internationalization of post-trading services and the expansion of the data business. In the year under review, SIX also made three acquisitions, two of them in the data business (see above) and one in the post-trading business, where SIX agreed to become the sole shareholder of Regis-TR by taking over Clearstream’s stake of 50%.
Growth goes hand in hand with strict cost management. In the year under review, operating expenses rose by 6.7% compared to 2020 due to the full contribution of the BME units versus only seven-month in 2020. In order to cope with its margin-ambitions, SIX is continuing to successfully execute on its current Continuous Improvement Program (CIP) and to realize the synergies from the BME integration. In 2021, this resulted in increased earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of CHF 421.7 million (+14.8%), leading to an EBITDA margin of 28.1%. Continued growth and increased efficiency will further improve the EBITDA margin going forward.
SIX aims for further growth alongside a sustainable and significant increase in profitability.
Despite the improved operating result, earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) and Group net profit substantially decreased compared to the previous year. This was due to two opposing effects from the stake of SIX in Worldline in 2020 and 2021.
In 2020, a partial sale of Worldline shares held by SIX as well as the merger of Worldline with payment services provider Ingenico had a highly positive effect on the 2020 net financial result, increasing EBIT and Group net profit. In 2021, an impairment resulting from the announced sale of Worldline’s Terminals, Solutions & Services (“TSS”) business negatively affected the share of profit or loss of associates of SIX (CHF –102.1 million). Compared to the highly positive result of the previous year, EBIT and Group net profit saw a strong year-on-year deviation: EBIT amounted to CHF 147.2 million (–71.4%) and Group net profit resulted to CHF 73.5 million (–83.2%). Without Worldline-related effects, Group net profit rose 37.3% compared to the previous year.
For 2021, the Board of Directors recommends that the Annual General Meeting approve an ordinary dividend of CHF 4.75 per share.
Bond placements provide SIX with financial flexibility for investments in future infrastructure.
In the year under review, SIX has proven that its business model, its innovation capacities and its potential to grow is rated very positively by investors: Following its first successful placement of a Euro bond and subsequent listing at the Spanish exchange in December 2020, SIX entered the Swiss bond market in the third quarter of 2021 by placing a bond with a volume of CHF 450 million. The offer aroused considerable interest among a broad investor base in Switzerland. SIX used the net proceeds of both issuances, among others, for the refinancing of the outstanding bridge facility associated with the acquisition of BME.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, SIX issued the world’s first tokenized bond in a fully regulated environment. The innovative bond is comprised of two interchangeable parts: The digital part with an issue volume of CHF 100 million is listed and traded at SDX, where it is also centrally held. The traditional part with an issue volume of CHF 50 million is listed and traded at SIX Swiss Exchange, and is held centrally by the longstanding custodian SIX SIS. The transaction was significant in many ways: SIX was therewith bridging the gap between the digital and traditional world and proved that the forward-looking distributed ledger technology (DLT) of its digital exchange SDX works very well in the highly regulated capital market. Further, SIX also demonstrated its innovative power and its significance for the transformation of the Swiss financial center. The net proceeds of the digital bond will be used for strategic financing purposes.
SIX will continue innovating to bring new products and services to market.
For the coming years, SIX aims for further growth alongside a sustainable and significant increase of profitability: EBITDA will continue to increase. Revenue growth and cost reductions will go hand in hand to achieve this target.
Revenue increases will come from synergies as a result of the BME acquisition and from leveraging the market position of SIX in the financial information business, particularly by leveraging the acquisitions made in 2021. Further, SIX will continue innovating to bring new products and services to market, but will also expand its existing offerings by entering adjacent markets. The increase in top-line growth will lead to increased profitability given the extensive fixed costs that are associated with some core business activities of SIX.
In addition, SIX will further improve its cost-side. Apart from substantial cost synergies stemming from the ongoing integration of BME, cost-cutting measures will include reducing supplier costs, critically prioritizing the project portfolio, making better use of international locations, and gradually reducing the workforce through natural turnover and targeted job cuts.
This will not only allow SIX to offset investments in the transformation of its business, but will also positively contribute to its refinancing capabilities, both eventually increasing the international competitiveness of SIX as a financial market infrastructure. ■