Ball Corporation issued the following announcement on May 2.
Ball Corporation (NYSE: BLL) today reported, on a U.S. GAAP basis, first quarter 2019 net earnings attributable to the corporation of $117 million (including the net effect of after-tax charges of $50 million, or 15 cents per diluted share for business consolidation, debt refinancing and other non-comparable costs) or 34 cents per diluted share, on sales of $2.8 billion, compared to $125 million net earnings attributable to the corporation, or 35 cents per diluted share (including the net effect of after-tax charges of $55 million, or 15 cents per diluted share for the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, business consolidation and other non-comparable costs), on sales of $2.8 billion in 2018. Ball's first-quarter 2019 comparable net earnings were $167 million, or 49 cents per diluted share, compared to $180 million, or 50 cents per diluted share in 2018.
Results reflect the sale of the company's U.S. steel food and steel aerosol business effective July 31, 2018. References to volume data represent units shipped in respective periods. Details of comparable segment earnings, business consolidation activities and other non-comparable items can be found in the notes to the unaudited condensed consolidated financial statements that accompany this news release.
"Growth trends in our packaging and aerospace businesses continue to gain momentum. During the quarter, higher than expected global can demand driven by customers' shifting mix and new product launches to aluminum packaging helped drive stronger revenue growth. In North America, higher costs related to surplus U.S. aluminum scrap and higher than anticipated plant start-up costs affected first quarter results. We anticipate that these near-term cost pressures will moderate in the second half when new lines complete learning curves and more favorable contractual terms become effective, as well as in 2020 and beyond," said John A. Hayes, chairman, president and chief executive officer.
"Beverage can growth appears to be accelerating to levels that are stronger and more sustainable than in the past 25 plus years. We welcome the opportunity to support growth for infinitely recyclable aluminum packaging from 11 new beverage can lines and two new extruded aluminum aerosol lines installed across our global plant network since the beginning of 2018. In aerospace, new program awards for Ball's space hardware and capabilities will drive additional infrastructure investment and hiring to support multiple years of growth."
Beverage Packaging, North and Central America
Beverage packaging, North and Central America, comparable segment operating earnings for the first quarter 2019 were $118 million on sales of $1.1 billion compared to $113 million on sales of $1 billion in the first quarter 2018.
Quarterly results improved due to mid-single digit can volume growth and continued favorable category and specialty can packaging mix shift in the sparkling water, beer, wine, energy and spiked sparkling seltzer categories, and were largely offset by unfavorable U.S. aluminum scrap rates, a challenging ramp up for two of four lines at our new Goodyear, Arizona, facility and incremental costs to serve double-digit specialty can growth.
Throughout 2019, continued volume growth, net fixed cost savings, lower start-up costs, customer product mix and improved aluminum can sheet quality are expected to add significantly to results.
Beverage Packaging, South America
Beverage packaging, South America, comparable segment operating earnings for the first quarter of 2019 were $68 million on sales of $441 million, compared to $98 million on sales of $459 million during the same period in 2018.
Low-teens segment volume growth was unable to offset fully the previously disclosed conclusion of the third-party end sales agreement as part of the Rexam acquisition. Industry can demand in South America remains particularly strong as beer customers continue to shift packaging mix from returnable glass to aluminum cans. The company's new beverage can manufacturing plant in Paraguay is scheduled to begin production in late 2019.
Beverage Packaging, Europe
Beverage packaging, Europe, comparable segment operating earnings for the first quarter of 2019 were $64 million on sales of $638 million, compared to $60 million on sales of $609 million in the first quarter 2018.
First quarter segment earnings reflect low double-digit can demand growth across Europe offset by cost inflation, start-up costs and euro earnings translation. Segment volume was driven by packaging mix shift to cans in the water, carbonated soft drink and beer categories and strong growth for energy drinks. New lines in the company's existing Widnau, Switzerland, and Belgrade, Serbia, facilities began production in January.
Positive volume momentum continues as certain customers continue to adjust a portion of their packaging mix to aluminum beverage packaging from single-serve plastics, particularly in the United Kingdom.
Aerospace comparable segment operating earnings for the first quarter 2019 were $30 million on sales of $328 million, compared to $25 million on sales of $264 million in the first quarter 2018.
Year-to-date the company hired more than 300 people into this business with an additional 600 employees required within the next twelve months. Due to continued growth, our 2018 facility expansions in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado, have been fully utilized and additional infrastructure growth capital will be deployed in late 2019 and 2020. Contracts already won, but not yet booked into current contracted backlog, increased to $4.9 billion. Quarterly year-over-year segment earnings improvement will continue throughout 2019.
Year-over-year results in non-reportable reflect the dilutive impact of the July 31, 2018, sale of the U.S. steel food and steel aerosol business partially offset by mid-single digit volume growth in the company's retained global aluminum aerosol business driven by strong demand for personal care aluminum aerosol packaging for deodorant, hair care and body sprays. Additional businesses supporting non-reportable include aluminum beverage can manufacturing operations in AMEA and Asia. The company's announced sale of its Chinese beverage can assets received antitrust approval and the transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2019. Despite the Chinese asset sale, non-reportable results are expected to improve year-over-year in the second half.
"The company's financial position is strong, our debt portfolio is well positioned with low, fixed interest rates and our recently amended and extended credit facility provides ample financial flexibility to invest in disciplined growth and return value to shareholders. Given the strength of our cash flow, leverage at optimal levels, last week's dividend increase and our existing repurchase authorization, the company plans to return in excess of $1 billion to shareholders in 2019 and beyond," said Scott C. Morrison, senior vice president and chief financial officer.
"Our focus on commercializing sustainable aluminum packaging solutions across our customers' product categories and leveraging our aerospace capabilities with relevant government customers is translating into additional growth. We will continue to navigate short-term start-up inefficiencies and cost inflation to position Ball for the best long-term outcome in advance of contract renewals. While we still have much work to do to achieve our 2019 financial goals originally laid out in mid-2016, our longer term prospects continue to be bright, and we continue to drive toward our 2019 goals of $2 billion in comparable EBITDA, in excess of $1 billion in free cash flow and exceeding our long-term 10 to 15 percent diluted earnings per share growth goal this year," Hayes said.
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