Material Insights: Take a break from your NCAA pool

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Put down your bracket sheets and close that ESPN window on your computer. It’s time to talk about the week’s top materials-related stories.

First up, last week Steve Newlin announced that he will retire as president and CEO of PolyOne Corp. on May 15. He’ll be replaced by Robert Patterson, who’s currently executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Newlin will stay on as chairman of the board.

PolyOne’s turnaround under Newlin has been impressive. When he was hired in early 2006, PolyOne was reeling from almost $300 million in losses in the five years since it was formed from the 2000 merger of Geon and M.A. Hanna.

Newlin took immediate action, selling businesses that were unprofitable or that did not fit the firm’s specialty profile. At the same time, he focused on paying down PolyOne’s large debt and developing new products.

Then he started on a string of specialty acquisitions, which included thermoplastic elastomer compounder GLS, ColorMatrix and Spartech.

Stock split and dividend increase for Westlake Chemical

Next up, Houston-based Westlake Chemical is benefiting from low-cost natural gas feedstock, and that’s enabled the firm to raise its dividend and initiate a 2-for-1 stock split.

President and CEO Albert Chao said the moves reflect the financial strength of the company, which makes polyethylene and PVC resin, as well as PVC pipe.

Westlake’s stock price was near $50 per share in mid-2012, but it has soared since then as the firm’s profitability has increased, largely due to advantages provided by North American natural gas. The price crossed the $100 mark in mid-2013 and passed $130 in early February.

Last year Westlake’s profit grew almost 60 percent to more than $610 million, as its sales climbed about 5 percent to almost $3.8 billion.

Westlake’s PVC pipe unit, North American Pipe Corp., was the fourth-largest company in Plastics News’ recent ranking of pipe, profile and tubing extruders.

Eastman buys specialty window film company

Finally this week, specialty chemicals and plastics maker Eastman Chemical has made another move into downstream products by acquiring window film maker Commonwealth Laminating & Coating for an undisclosed price.

The deal includes Commonwealth’s manufacturing plant and headquarters in Martinsville, Va., as well as nine sales distribution centers. Commonwealth employs about 240 and has annual sales of about $100 million.

Eastman expects the deal to extend its reach in the market for solar control window film and protective film applications.

The deal is Eastman’s second film-related transaction in less than three years. In 2012, Eastman bought a window and performance film plant in Henry County, Va. Eastman also operates a film plant in Dresden, Germany.

The sellers are two private equity firms: Transportation Resource Partners and Fenway Partners. When the deal closes later this year, Eastman will run Commonwealth as part of its Advanced Materials unit, which includes Tritan-brand copolyester.