Celanese Earnings Call Insights: Sequentially Sales and Raw Materials

Celanese Corporation (NYSE:CE) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Sequentially Sales

David Begleiter – Deutsche Bank: Mark, just on a sequentially sales rose roughly $3 million and EBIT increased by 23. What really changed sequentially that drove this, I guess, 77% operating leverage in the quarter?

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Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: Well, there’s a lot of things involved in that. When you look at – I’ll kind of roll down the list here, the pop in the mind and I have Steven hop in here as well. When you look at, David, the industry in general, we’re seeing our ability to increase penetration and orders continue to grow. The way you should think about from an opportunity point of view is in an ideal world we could move roughly 7 to 8 kilograms of material per vehicle around the world. Globally, they were roughly a fourth of that kind of number. We’re seeing kind of year-over-year 9% growth in that penetration. So we continue to see that penetration growth, and to be honest, it was some vehicle uptick sequentially around the world, maybe 3% or so. So that was one vehicle. Another vehicle is, is that we’re actually in a lot more – we have a lot more avenues we’re selling into and we’re starting to have more success selling into the electronics area, particularly the low voltage electronics, like cell phones or smartphones, and those things are starting to really generate some positive traction for us. Medical was good this last quarter, and that hit us from a favorable point of view from mix perspective, David. So you’re seeing some of the uptick with that. That’s what I would say. Steven, is that good for you? Yeah.

David Begleiter – Deutsche Bank: Mark, just lastly on China. Have you seen any – in the last few weeks any uptick in demand in acetyl to China?

Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: No, China, if you want to be optimistic as I was, David, I think you could be able to be (pessimistic), there seems to be signs, and they’re anecdotal in some ways for our business. But there is signs of things are actually slowing in China. Our business is pretty – has been pretty steady. Pricing was down a little bit from the fourth to the first quarter, and volume was down a little bit in that region. We made it up in some other regions, but that region was weak.

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Steven Sterin – SVP and CFO: David, one thing too. As you look at our business in China, keep in mind that a significant portion of our earnings come of our acetate joint ventures, which we continue to see modest growth in, and also from our expansion. We still continue to have good success in bringing some of these high-value AEMs, applications that Mark mentioned, into that market that really – that are fraction of the rest of the world, particularly in auto, on the amount of pounds per vehicle, kg per vehicle of our AEM products. We see opportunities to continue to grow there as well. But, overall, more difficult Chinese economic environment.

Raw Materials

Robert Walker – Jefferies: This is Rob Walker on for Laurence. I just wanted to get some clarity on AI and the price and volume declining, but your profits are rising. I guess, was there $30 million or so of productivity there helping year-over-year, and what was happening in the raw materials?

Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: On a year-over-year basis, that’s a really awkward comp, because you recall early last year, I mean, the world was kind of coming to the end in AI. So you want to go through year-over-year or sequentially?

Robert Walker – Jefferies: I guess, year-over-year.

Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: Well, volume and price were both down. I think if you look at it on a broad sense over that period, as you said, big reductions in some of our cost equations, some of the variable costs. Raw material input costs were way down in that, that offset – more than offset the volume and price.

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Steven Sterin – SVP and CFO: If you recall, in Q1 of last year, we definitely began to see beginning of European slowdown, as well as India began to really decelerate, and there is a deceleration in China, which led to a pretty rapid destocking, particularly in this chain. So there was some margin compression in Q1 last year. So we probably did below kind of our normal levels last year on margins, and over the last year we worked really hard to try to recover and get closer to what we think is the right level of variable margin. So raw materials are (par to that).

Robert Walker – Jefferies: In terms of variable, I understand that maybe fixed cost absorption may have been better. Why would variable input costs be down year-over-year?

Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: Well, I mean, ethylene price is way down year-over-year. CO cost is way down for us year-over-year.

Steven Sterin – SVP and CFO: Coal is down.

Mark C. Rohr – Chairman and CEO: Coal is down year-over-year.

Steven Sterin – SVP and CFO: Natural gas.

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