Celanese Corporation (NYSE: CE), a global chemical and specialty materials company, reported third quarter GAAP diluted earnings per share of $2.17 and adjusted earnings per share of $2.53, both sequential improvements over the prior quarter. The Company delivered net sales of $1.6 billion as 2 percent sequential volume growth offset the impact of a 1 percent decline in both pricing and foreign exchange. Despite no meaningful improvement in market demand over the second quarter, the Company recorded sequential growth in both Engineered Materials and the Acetyl Chain via their differentiated business models while again displaying a stable earnings profile in Acetate Tow. The Company generated operating cash flow of $397 million and free cash flow of $315 million. Celanese returned $352 million of cash to shareholders in the quarter via $275 million in share repurchases and $77 million in dividends, bringing the total year-to-date cash returned to $1.0 billion. Based on an expectation that market conditions are unlikely to improve in 2019, and including the impacts of the previously announced unplanned Clear Lake outage, the Company expects to deliver 2019 adjusted earnings between $9.60 and $9.80 per share.
Third Quarter 2019 Business Segment Overview
Engineered Materials (EM)
Engineered Materials reported net sales of $591 million in the third quarter. Volume expanded 2 percent over the prior quarter as the business delivered 1,315 project wins in the third quarter, offsetting the continuation of depressed demand globally and some residual destocking, particularly in Europe. GAAP operating profit of $111 million and adjusted EBIT of $154 million both expanded sequentially as the business offset continued demand softness, a $6 million impact from turnarounds, and lower than expected affiliate contributions. Despite competitive dynamics similar to the previous quarter, Engineered Materials was able to sequentially expand GAAP operating profit and adjusted EBIT margins by 140 and 110 basis points, respectively, by preserving the pricing spreads over raw materials. Engineered Materials has increasingly collaborated with customers via its project model to sustain the earnings power of the base business under current market conditions. Year-to-date 2019 operating profit, which excludes affiliates, is within 2 percent of the same period in 2018, when market economics and demand levels were far more favorable.
The Acetyl Chain recorded third quarter net sales of $867 million, as sequential volume growth of 1 percent offset the impact of foreign currency headwinds. GAAP operating profit was $180 million and adjusted EBIT was $191 million, as the business continued to focus downstream on VAM and emulsions, placing sequentially higher volume where incremental value could be captured. Additionally, the business strategically redirected higher volumes of acetic acid to China where industry pricing moderately expanded over the prior quarter, offsetting sequentially lower pricing of acetic acid in the Western Hemisphere. The Acetyl Chain effectively offset China acid pricing that remains low by historical standards, major turnarounds at Frankfurt VAM and Singapore acetic acid, and production limitations related to the incident at Clear Lake to deliver quarterly GAAP operating and adjusted EBIT margins over 20 percent, sustaining the enhanced profitability levels of the last two years. Since the Clear Lake incident, the business has executed a myriad of activations, including industry sourcing and shipping significant volumes across its global network, to expand third quarter volume sequentially and year over year and to continue meeting customer needs into the fourth quarter. Productivity-based investments are progressing at Clear Lake, which will enhance the operating flexibility of the global network and further lift foundational earnings levels.
Acetate Tow reported GAAP operating profit of $34 million and adjusted EBIT of $71 million in the third quarter, further demonstrating the continued stability of its earnings profile. Volume and price declined minimally on a sequential basis and were stable year over year, as secular demand and industry dynamics continue to stabilize. Dividends from affiliates were $27 million in the third quarter, down slightly from the prior quarter due to the impact of timing and currency. In the fourth quarter, Acetate Tow is expected to experience typical seasonality in its earnings, consistent with past years.
Cash Flow and Tax
The Company delivered operating cash flow of $397 million and free cash flow of $315 million in the quarter, driven by continued strength of earnings to cash conversion. In the third quarter, capital expenditures were $82 million, and the Company expects capital expenditures for 2019 to total nearly $400 million, inclusive of costs to repair the Clear Lake CO unit. During the third quarter, a total of $352 million in cash was returned to shareholders via $77 million in dividends and $275 million in share repurchases. The U.S. GAAP effective tax rate was 16 percent in the third quarter compared to 12 percent in the same quarter of last year, primarily due to the impact of functional currency differences in certain jurisdictions partially offset by the release of valuation allowance on tax credit carryforwards. During the third quarter, the 2019 tax rate for adjusted earnings per share was revised down to 13 percent, based on a change in sourcing of U.S. earnings between domestic and foreign sources and the associated impact to foreign tax credit utilization for the year.
“Our businesses and teams have displayed remarkable resilience in the third quarter to deliver sequential growth despite tremendous challenges including a weak market demand backdrop as well as the incident at Clear Lake in the final weeks of the quarter,” said Lori Ryerkerk, chief executive officer. “With few indications of sustained improvement up to this point, we now expect that low demand levels are likely to persist through the remainder of the year. Incorporating the financial impact of the Clear Lake incident to the fourth quarter, we expect 2019 adjusted earnings of $9.60 to $9.80 per share. Our final performance within the range will depend on the evolution of demand conditions and timing of the restart of the Clear Lake CO unit. Looking forward to 2020, we remain focused on controllable factors including productivity initiatives, business model enhancements, and high-return capital deployment that will deliver double-digit adjusted earnings per share growth next year, whether or not current demand conditions improve. At this stage, given an uncertain demand outlook, we expect 2020 adjusted earnings of $11 to $12 per share, with the higher end of the range achievable if we see improvement in demand conditions next year. We are still working a number of controllable actions and will have more visibility to further clarify the outlook as we get into next year and can assess early business conditions across the globe.”
The Company is unable to reconcile forecasted adjusted earnings per share growth to US GAAP diluted earnings per share without unreasonable efforts because a forecast of Certain Items, such as mark-to-market pension gains/losses, is not practical.
The Company’s prepared remarks related to the third quarter results will be posted on its website at investors.celanese.com under Financial Information/Financial Document Library after market close on October 21, 2019. Information about Non-US GAAP measures is included in a Non-US GAAP Financial Measures and Supplemental Information document posted on our website. See “Non-GAAP Financial Measures” below.