Costa: Eastman 'well positioned' in 2020 and beyond

Hank Hayes • Feb 3, 2020 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Eastman Board Chair and CEO Mark Costa pointed to 2019’s positive outcomes in a Friday conference call with Wall Street analysts.

“Although we are unsatisfied with our earnings performance and it was a difficult environment, we are well positioned for earnings growth in 2020 and going forward,” Costa said.

He called 2019 a “significant year of macro economic challenges that continued to get tougher” as the year progressed.

“I’m incredibly proud of how Eastman employees around the world responded to these challenges and stepped up to the plate to deliver,” Costa said.

Those positives, Costa noted, included $400 million in new revenue from innovation led by the Advanced Materials segment; $1.08 billion in free cash flow; meeting cost management targets; completing two bolt-on acquisitions (Marlotherm and INACSA); returning $668 million to stockholders and repaying $370 million of debt; and increasing the company’s dividend for the 10th consecutive year.

The new revenue, said Costa, was led by sales in Tritan, Saflex acoustic interlayers and NAIA cellulosic yarn.

Sales revenue for the year was $9.2 billion compared to $10.1 billion in 2018. Adjusted earnings per share was $7.13 for 2019 compared to $8.20 in 2018.

As for 2020, Eastman’s growth drivers include expected increases in new business revenue; reducing costs by $20-$40 million; and lower pension costs.

Headwinds in 2020, according to Eastman, include a stronger U.S. dollar.

Eastman is expecting 2020 adjusted earnings per share to be between $7.20 and $7.60 and free cash flow to be between $1.0 billion and $1.1 billion.

Friday’s conference call was the last for Eastman Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Curt Espeland, who is retiring.

Eastman, a global specialty products company, is celebrating its 100th year in business.