AKRON, OHIO (Feb. 9, 4 p.m. ET) — Plastics-related businesses at Celanese Corp. and Eastman Chemical Co. showed improvement during 2011, while results at DuPont Co. were mixed.
All three firms have filed their full-year financial results in recent weeks. Celanese's Advanced Engineered Materials unit – including its market-leading acetals business – saw sales grow 17 percent to almost $1.3 billion during 2011. The unit's pretax operating profit also increased 9 percent to $396 million.
Based on sales, AEM ranked second among Dallas-based Celanese's four operating units in 2011, accounting for 18 percent of sales before eliminations. The unit also ranked second in pretax operating profit. AEM's sales volume in pounds also increased 2 percent during the year.
In an earnings release, Celanese officials credited AEM's fourth quarter growth to “successful innovation efforts amid a challenging economic environment, particularly in Europe.” In September, the unit opened the world's largest acetal plant, operating more than 300 million pounds of annual capacity in Frankfurt, Germany. Overall sales at Celanese grew 14 percent to almost $6.8 billion during 2011.
At Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman, the firm's Specialty Plastics unit saw sales grow almost 15 percent to nearly $1.2 billion during 2011. Operating earnings for the unit – which includes Tritan-brand copolyester – also grew 19 percent to $105 million.
Specialty Plastics' growth took place even as the unit's sales volume in pounds fell 2 percent for the year. Based on sales, Specialty Plastics was the smallest of Eastman's four operating units in 2011, generating about 17 percent of sales. The firm's overall sales grew almost 23 percent to almost $7.2 billion.
Eastman officials said that Specialty Plastics was able to increase selling prices for its product during 2011 in response to higher raw material and energy costs, particularly for paraxylene feedstock. They added that slightly lower sales volume was a result of weakened demand for copolyester product lines, particularly in packaging and consumer durable goods end markets.
Eastman already has made headlines in 2012 with its $3.4 billion acquisition of Solutia Inc., a global producer of specialty chemicals and specialty plastic films. That deal was announced Jan. 27.
For Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont, its Performance Materials unit – including nylon and other engineering resins – saw sales grow 8 percent to $6.8 billion, but pretax operating income slipped 6 percent to $924 million. The unit's sales volume in pounds also fell 4 percent during the year.
Based on sales, Performance Materials ranked third among DuPont's eight operating units in 2011, bringing in about 18 percent of sales. It also ranked third in pretax operating income. DuPont's 2011 plastics activity included a fluoropolymers joint venture with Chinese materials firm Shanghai 3F New Materials Co. Ltd. The JV will build a fluoropolymers plant in Changzhou, China. Overall sales at DuPont grew 20 percent to $38 billion during 2011.
Per-share stock prices at all three firms have fared well so far in 2012. Since Jan. 1, DuPont's per-share price was up 14 percent to $52.15 in late trading Feb. 9. In the same comparison, Celanese's per-share price was up 17 percent to $51.75 and Eastman's had rocketed 40 percent to $54.60.