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Celanese Q1 2022 Earnings Call Transcript


Listen to Conference Call View Latest SEC 10-K Filing View Latest SEC 10-Q Filing

Participants

Corporate Executives

  • Brandon Ayache
    Vice President, Investor Relations
  • Lori J. Ryerkerk
    Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
  • Scott A. Richardson
    Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Presentation

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the Celanese's First Quarter 2022 Earnings Conference Call and Webcast. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to turn the call over to Brandon Ayache, Vice President of Investor Relations. Thank you. You may begin.

Brandon Ayache
Vice President, Investor Relations at Celanese

Thank you, Daryl. Welcome to the Celanese Corporation first quarter 2022 earnings conference call. My name is Brandon Ayache, Vice President of Investor Relations. And with me today on the call are Lori Ryerkerk, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer; and Scott Richardson, Chief Financial Officer.

Celanese Corporation distributed its first quarter earnings release via Business Wire and posted prepared comments about the quarter on our Investor Relations website yesterday afternoon.

As a reminder, we will discuss non-GAAP financial measures today. You can find definitions of these measures, as well as reconciliations to the comparable GAAP measures on our website.

Today's presentation will also include forward-looking statements. Please review the cautionary language regarding forward-looking statements, which can be found at the end of the press release, as well as the prepared comments. Form 8-K reports containing all these materials have also been submitted to the SEC. Because we published our prepared comments yesterday, we'll now open the line directly for your questions.

Daryl, please go ahead and open the line for questions.


Questions and Answers

Operator

Thank you. We will now be conducting a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Our first questions come from the line of Josh Spector with UBS. Please proceed with your questions.

Josh Spector
Analyst at UBS Group

Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I was just curious on the Engineered Materials' EBIT guidance. I was wondering what's baked in there in terms of volume sequentially. I mean, you're pretty clear about the auto pull-forward, but wonder if there's any other puts and takes around that, assuming you're getting incremental pricing, I assume, you're assuming some volume moderation for 2Q. And then similarly, for the rest of the year thinking about how you're kind of framing up volume expectations for auto end markets and otherwise. Thanks.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. Thanks, Josh. As we look at full year, so if we look at 2021 to 2022 we are assuming some volume in there. Some of that is for Santoprene, but there's a couple of percent growth in base business as well.

And that really comes about as we see improvements in 2022 versus 2021 and a lot -- the availability of a lot of our raw materials. So things like glass, fiber, things like flame retardants, even some resins that we called out last year.

Now that we are getting better supplies of those, we're able to increase our volumes and that really accounts for the base volume increase. And as I said, we do have volume increase in there as well for Santoprene.

I would say, we called out auto to be flat year-on-year, so we're not assuming a large increase in volume to auto, although, we do continue to see margin growth in materials into auto, as we continue to high-grade the materials we sell into auto. But I would say, really, strength across all sectors, all of them growing a little bit in that volume.

Josh Spector
Analyst at UBS Group

And then, I guess, just specifically on 2Q and that sequential volume move, are you thinking that volumes are up or down into 2Q, given some of the macro headwinds?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. I think, in Q2, we're expecting a little less volume. Again, we called out that we had about, what we think, was $10 million to $15 million of volume pull forward from 2Q to 1Q. Again, I think, we called it out in our notes. Really, that was driven by demand being down in 1Q in terms of auto builds, but people wanting to go ahead and rebuild inventory.

You might recall that, we had said, fourth quarter, we saw a lot of inventory reduction, as people went to end of the year. And so, we think people were just rebuilding inventory in 1Q. And unless we see a rapid demand, which we're not forecasting, for auto in 2Q, then we would expect to see that $10 million to $15 million not show up in the second quarter, if you will.

Josh Spector
Analyst at UBS Group

Okay Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of P.J. Juvekar with Citi. Please proceed with your questions.

P.J. Juvekar
Analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup

Yes. Hi. Good morning Lori and Scott. Does DuPont's M&M business improve your ESG profile or keep it the same? And can you explain -- can you maybe talk a little bit about nylon recycling especially at the end of life in applications like autos and what role will Celanese play? Thank you.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Thanks, P.J. On DuPont, our assessment so far and obviously, we have more learning to do but our sense on DuPont is their ESG profile is similar to ours. They've had similar efforts in place to reduce the footprint of their facilities. They have similar efforts in place to purchase renewable energy for their electricity needs. We know they've also worked on recycling and making available recycled materials to those customers that want them. So I would say, I don't think they're necessarily far ahead of where we were in Celanese, but I also don't think they're behind. So I think we have a good common platform to work from. Obviously, there's going to be some things we find they're doing better. There's going to be some things we were doing better. So I think, it will really just help accelerate our journey.

When it comes to recycled nylon, the challenge has always been, how do you find high enough quality nylon so that the material you provide can meet the customer specifications. So in Celanese, we've done that by securing airbag scrappage, which is pretty consistent quality. We use that in Europe to make a recycled nylon. In India, where we recycle fishing nets from the ocean and clean those and we make that into a recycled nylon. So for other uses say in auto, the challenge is really how do you collect it and how do you separate it? Because collection itself is an issue as it is with all recycled materials. But then the issue is in auto and other applications, a lot of times they're put together with other materials or difficult to separate. I think it's a challenge we have as an industry and one we're just starting to look at.

Some of our more recent discussions around that is we've been talking to customers not necessarily in auto but also some other applications saying "Hey if you could do this entire component out of one material, it may cost you a few cents more but it would make it more recyclable." And so I think that's what we're going to have to look at going forward, is how do we work with our customers to maybe simplify the amount of polymer the types of polymers being used inside an application to make it easier to recover and recycle those materials.

P.J. Juvekar
Analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup

Great. Thank you. And one quick question on VAM. You mentioned that things were really tight with three out of five plants down in North America I believe. How does this VAM situation normalize in 2Q and second half? Thank you.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. So we expect that to normalize in second half -- or sorry in the second quarter. Two of those VAM plants were ours so one turnaround in Clear Lake, as well as the turnaround in Bay City. So we know those are coming back up and we should expect them to be back to full rates in the second quarter. So we expect that to improve. What that should do though is increase demand then for acetic acid, which provide a little bit of support for acetic acid pricing going forward especially, with China acetic acid pricing. And VAM price continues to be high, partly because of that but also just because of a big demand for VAM. And I think you can see that in other people's reports that are really calling out strong second quarters, as well as, strong second halves in some of the big VAM consumers. So I would expect the supply-demand situation to normalize second quarter, which really just should help us with acetic -- holding up acetic acid pricing.

P.J. Juvekar
Analyst at Smith Barney Citigroup

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Jeff Zekauskas with JPMorgan. Please proceed with your question.

Jeff Zekauskas
Analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Thanks very much. I think you used to say that your financing costs for the Mobility acquisition were about 3%. How much higher are they now or how much higher do you foresee them being?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes, Jeff I think we're still working through that. Obviously, I mean benchmark rates have moved up. A lot's going to depend upon where things are at when we go to market. It also is we're working on things in terms of how we want to optimally structure, in terms of a regional debt mix. We're going to look at maturities and kind of optimize that as well. So I think while we do expect to be higher than the 3%, if we were to go to market right now, I think the overall interest cost we believe is not going to be materially different. With the higher cash flow. we do expect to come in with lower debt at closing is the current expectation. And then with bringing the synergies forward a bit in year one we ultimately believe from an accretion perspective, we're going to be at/or above what we had originally signaled earlier this year.

Jeff Zekauskas
Analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Thank you. for that. You have a big acetal chain expansion coming on in the United States next year. Are you taking steps now or beginning to take steps to think about the curtailment of your offshore capacity and how do you think about that?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

So the answer is, we're not thinking about taking steps on our offshore capacity. We really like having the footprint where we have three different raw material providers so coal in China, oil in Singapore and gas in the US. We think having that global flexibility is very helpful. We really saw the benefit of that during the freeze in 2021. So currently we do not have any plans to alter our footprint consistent with the expansion of Clear Lake.

Jeff Zekauskas
Analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Thank you so much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Vincent Andrews with Morgan Stanley. Please proceed with your question.

Vincent Andrews
Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Thank you and good morning, everyone. Scott, I wanted to ask you your prepared comments talk about you're looking at incremental ways to improve your own free cash flow which is already kind of best-in-class in terms of conversion. But I'm then wondering as you look at the M&M acquisition, what did you think of their cash conversion? And have you already identified kind of pre-close that there's going to be opportunities to improve the free cash flow generation of that asset as well?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes. I mean I think one of the big differences between the asset portfolios obviously is the M&M business having a really strong localized presence in Asia particularly outside of China. When we put the networks together, we think that's going to be a really good opportunity over time to optimize the supply chain. And that should give us a really nice inventory benefit overtime.

So I think that's probably the number one focus area I would say Vincent as we get the businesses integrated. It's focusing really on optimizing the manufacturing footprint between regions which hopefully will allow us to have less product on the water. We've had our own organic investments at Celanese going into Asia to help with that, but we do think the combined portfolio should give us some ample opportunity there.

Vincent Andrews
Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Okay. And then maybe just in terms of Santoprene it sounds like the synergy is going very well there but I didn't -- I don't think I read that you were increasing them. Is it possible you'll wind up increasing the synergies there?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Look I think that's a good possibility. I think we're kind of running at double the rate of synergy capture, here early on in the integration. That's good because that pulls forward cash flow earlier which is good from an NPV value. But I think as with all of these acquisitions, as we get into them and as we really learn the details not everything plays out the way we think. But in general, we always find more to go after and more opportunities that we didn't identify at the time of the deal.

So, I don't have an updated number for you at this time. But I would say we're definitely one optimistic about the timing in which we can deliver the already identified synergies as well as being optimistic about being able to deliver even more synergies over time.

Vincent Andrews
Analyst at Morgan Stanley

Sounds, great. Thanks very much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Mike Sison with Wells Fargo. Please proceed with your question.

Mike Sison
Analyst at Wells Fargo & Company

Hey good morning. Really nice start to the year and raised outlook. Just curious in terms of the acetyl chain, always been impressed of how well your team can figure out where to make the most money. So just curious when you think about what they've done in April and where they're sort of allocating their volume heading into 2Q can you give us a little bit of color on what's driving your EBIT outlook near term?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes. I think if we look at second quarter industry dynamics probably looked fairly similar to first quarter in that China is still a little congested because of COVID and inability of ships and banks to move out in China. We see inventories continue to be high there. And so pricing probably, you can see where it is today. So we see that continuing.

We do see some help for acetic acid pricing with the VAM returning into operation, which we have called out for first quarter. But that counteracted with everything else so again, you can see where the pricing is today. But we do continue to see really good demand and really good pricing in the Western Hemisphere. That hasn't changed.

The congestion in China obviously keeps some material flowing out, so there continues to be high demand in the Western Hemisphere and we continue to see high demand for VAM and the downstream derivatives. And we're going into the summer season, which is typically an even higher period for those molecules. So I'd say on average what we saw in the first quarter probably similar profile into where things go, but we do have moderating prices in China, which will also drive second quarter outlook.

Mike Sison
Analyst at Wells Fargo & Company

Got it. And then I apologize if I missed this. Scott, did you mention when you think you will close the financing? Is there some flexibility to do it earlier versus later?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes, we'll have flexibility, Mike. I mean, right now we're going to look at where the market is at and when we think it's going to be the most opportunistic time to go. But right now we're still planning on sometime this summer.

Mike Sison
Analyst at Wells Fargo & Company

Okay. Got it. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Ghansham Panjabi with Baird. Please proceed with your question.

Ghansham Panjabi
Analyst at Robert W. Baird

Thank you. Good morning everybody. And Lori, welcome back.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Thank you.

Ghansham Panjabi
Analyst at Robert W. Baird

Can you -- would you sort of take us through what's going on in China? Obviously, a lot going on with the curtailments last year that affected acetic acid and then the Olympics and so on and now China COVID. How do you sort of see the market evolving in context of some chatter about Chinese stimulus, etc.? I guess what are you seeing on a real-time basis?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. Let me start with COVID. We haven't seen any, I would say, any significant direct impact from COVID. Obviously, some of our folks have been locked down in Shanghai. They've had to go back to working from home. We have an RDP plant near Shanghai that's been shut down for a few weeks. We've been able to cover that in our network.

So I'd say, the direct impacts have been pretty small. I would say, we've had more impact due to the issues around warehouses and logistics and if you see the pictures of Shanghai Harbor just materials not getting in and getting out. Now Nanjing where we're basically located that's been fine. We've been able to get things in and out. But I'd say, it's a secondary impact as our customers' inventories are building, they can't get products to export. In some cases, they can't get products imported in that they need. So it's just -- it's slowed things down a bit in China.

That said, we are monitoring the impact on our operations. They have been really minimal to-date any impact that we've had, so we've not built anything into our guidance assuming further slowdown in China. And that's supported right now by our order books, which continue to be very strong as we look into the second quarter.

Ghansham Panjabi
Analyst at Robert W. Baird

Got you. And then on the EM segment, I think, you're guiding towards the EBIT at the highest -- higher end of the original guidance. But really 1Q was a partial pull forward from 2Q as well. So I guess what's driving that upgraded view specific to EM operating profit for the year?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. I think, I mean, if you look at it, call it, a $10 million pull forward that would have said, we would have had a $200 million 1Q, which means that we'd have a $200 million second quarter if that falls in the second quarter. So $800 million is kind of just -- we're not seeing a lot of seasonality these days in EM. It's pretty -- everything is pretty full. Demand is high. So we're expecting that to continue through the second half.

Obviously, there's a lot of uncertainty in the second half around COVID, around China, what's going to happen there. Again, we're not seeing that impact yet, so we're not building that into our outlook. A lot of uncertainty around Europe. Again, no direct impact that we're seeing yet. But obviously, if consumer confidence goes down or energy prices continue to rise, we may see changes in our customer profile.

So there is some uncertainty in the second half, but I would also say, generally, third quarter tends to be a good quarter for that. So that's on the other side. And we have forecast automotive flat, and IHS still expects to see automotive growth in the second half. So if we get any growth that's a counteraction to some of that other uncertainty. So, just looking at -- given all that uncertainty in the second half, we're basically saying, the second half looks like first half and that gets us to $800 million.

Ghansham Panjabi
Analyst at Robert W. Baird

Okay. Perfect. Thank you so much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Mike Leithead with Barclays. Please proceed with your question.

Mike Leithead
Analyst at Barclays

Great. Thanks. Good morning guys. Lori could you maybe just -- staying on EM for a minute. Can you maybe just talk a little bit more about, your ability to outgrow the auto OEM market? And just, when you look out over say the next year or so, just given your customer mix or even where channel inventory levels are? How would you size or think about your auto volume growth, relative to sort of kind of that industry growth rate of auto new builds?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Look, it's a great question. And let me just start with a few numbers for first quarter, because I think it will help put things in perspective. If you look at global auto builds for the first quarter, they were actually down 7% from Q4. And this is industry data. But a lot of that was in China, like 20% of that was in China again reflecting the COVID lockdown situation there.

If you look at where our biggest customers are, they tend to be in the U.S., which actually grew from Q4 to Q1 and in Germany, which also grew. And so, that -- you kind of have to look at the various regions and the specific customers to really make sense.

So I would say, although we're even outgrowing -- in this case, we outgrew even those segments that we're in, again, we do think a portion of that is pull forward from second quarter into first quarter, just given everybody having low inventories and expecting kind of outsized demand going forward. There's certainly pent-up demand for auto going forward.

Having said that, though, we generally have been able to outgrow automotive builds, as our folks have worked really hard to develop new products, high-margin products, for customers, for light weighting, for EVs has been a big push for us in the last few years and really making sure we're getting into those customers that are growing and then, our -- as they are developing new designs, new generations of automobiles that we have a large content in that.

So I'd say, we do have the ability to grow faster, than global auto builds grow faster even than the segment auto build. And it's really down to our great folks in EM and their ability to innovate and work with our customers to really provide unique solutions.

Mike Leithead
Analyst at Barclays

Great. That is super helpful. And then, maybe just second, like in the prepared remarks there's a line about your internal initiatives to unlock incremental cash, to help with deleveraging. And I think one area touched on was opportunistic divestitures and I appreciate you probably don't want to front run anything, but any context around size or scale of what you would be looking at would be helpful. And would you consider making another go at potentially monetizing the Acetate Tow business as part of that?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Look, what I would say is called opportunistic, because that's what it is. I would think about it, in terms of the same way we did PPC a few years ago. Someone -- it was an asset we liked. It was an asset that we thought was strategic to our portfolio. On the other hand, someone offered us a good bit of money for more than it was value to us.

And so, we're in the same situation with some other parts of our portfolio. Most of them have good return. But if there is someone out there that values them more highly, of course, we would consider. And I would say, it can be small, it can be larger. But those are the sorts of things that we are looking at.

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yeah. We're putting most of our energy really towards small, what I would call cash harvesting projects. I mean, it could be, -- on the surface a $5 million project doesn't seem like a lot on something like working capital etc. But when you start adding up a number of these, very quickly you can get to a material number. And so, our team is working a pretty robust list of things. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to unlock cash and take on less debt at close.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Maybe if I can come back to Tow. We've talked in the past about Tow. And we've talked about why we think it will be hard to divest Tow for all the reasons that was, hard a few years ago. That said we clearly are not satisfied with the way the business is performing financially right now.

Specifically, we're not happy with the kind of financial exposure we have with what have historically been three-year contracts and what that gives us in terms of lack of agility and lack of ability to pass pricing on in high-inflation environments like we're seeing now. So, while of course we would consider a divestiture just like we would anything, actually what we're really looking at is how do we develop more optionality in our Tow business, similar to what we've developed over the years in our acetyl chain and do that in a way to really help us improve profitability of the Tow business as we move on in the coming years.

Mike Leithead
Analyst at Barclays

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Hassan Ahmed with Alembic Global. Please proceed with your question.

Hassan Ahmed
Analyst at Alembic Global Advisors

Good morning, Lori and Scott. Lori in the prepared remarks, there was a line about how the bump-up in your full year guidance is sort of predicated amongst other things on a degree of easing of raw material constraints. So I just wanted to sort of get your views on that. Were you guys seeing constraints on the raw material side? Were you being conservative in your earlier outlook in terms of availability? Did this have some sort of a higher raw material price baked in? So just any clarity around that.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Thanks, Hassan for the question. Really, referred to -- and I mentioned, it just a few minutes ago, but I probably wasn't clear. We did have significant raw material constraints last year in Engineered Materials specifically. And it wasn't -- it was a little bit around resin some of the resins PBT things that we purchased. But more importantly, it was around things we used to not worry much about like glass fiber and flame retardants, where we just couldn't get enough to make the products that our customers demanded.

We saw that starting to ease last year. I would say, if I look kind of at the lower end of our range, we assume that those continued. What we saw in the first quarter is those constraints have been largely mitigated. Great work by our procurement team and others to really find alternative sourcing and so we've largely mitigated that, which then means we can produce more volumes of materials that our customers want, which then moves us to the higher end of our range in Engineered Materials.

Hassan Ahmed
Analyst at Alembic Global Advisors

Understood, understood. And a bit more of a macro question. Look, I mean, obviously a very impressive sort of bump-up in your full year guidance. And at least, a verbiage of your prepared remarks, it sounds like you're pretty confident in achieving that. Now, I mean, as I sit there and sort of hear some of the pundits out there talking about recessions and maybe a potential recession in Europe, and slowing down in China. I mean, look you guys are in all these sort of important markets, be it China, be it Germany, which obviously is impacted by geopolitics. I mean, what are you guys seeing relative to these sort of recessionary pundits out there that gives you more confidence?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. So I'll start off, I'll just reiterate. We have not assumed any significant demand destruction in our guidance that we've given. So we haven't assumed any demand destruction from inflation or from our customers being impacted by inflation. And that's really based on what we're seeing right now, which is yeah, there's a little bit of bumpiness. We're seeing more issue go from logistics constraints, especially maritime constraints, especially in China than we are kind of in the inflationary pressure at this point in time. And so that's our assumption. Obviously, we're going to continue to monitor in all regions, but we continue to believe unless something changes significantly through the remainder of the year that logistics will continue to be a bigger issue for us than inflation.

Hassan Ahmed
Analyst at Alembic Global Advisors

Very helpful, Lori. Thank you so much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of David Begleiter with Deutsche Bank. Please proceed with your questions.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Thank you. Good morning. Lori just on EM you mentioned surcharges in the quarter. How much of the price in the quarter was surcharges versus more permanent or structural? And how do you decide, whether to put in place a more structural or more of a surcharge-type increase?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Great question, David. Look, I would say for the quarter the price increases have really been to cover the additional costs just to offset the raws and energy. So we typically pass through price increases with raws, because those tend to go up more slowly and come down more slowly. We have a surcharge for energy. What I would tell you right now is between our pricing movements to cover raws and the surcharge we're fully covering those increases. And that's what you're seeing in the pricing.

Now what we see on the other side is, when energy comes down that's going to go back to our customers within a month. That's how we designed it to give our customers assurance that they could get back to normal.

As raws goes down, as we always have pricing will eventually go down with it, but there tends to be a little bit of a lag. But I would say, right now, we're just trying to maintain margin. Our customers have worked really well with us in working around the constraints we've had in terms of logistics, in terms of raw material working with us on pricing. And so we want to continue to be able to serve those customers going forward. So there maybe some lag in pricing, but again, our objective has been to just maintain margins during this period not necessarily to grow them.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Got it. And Scott, just on the M&M synergies, you mentioned an acceleration of year one synergies. What's driving that? And could you actually quantify what that could be for us going forward?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yeah. I mean I think some of the things we talked about early on, was that we hadn't baked in a lot of tax synergies, particularly early in the deal David, and we've been working on those types of things early days, and we think we'll be able to bring those forward. Some of those right, I'll call it kind of back-end things tend to be able to happen faster and we're more confident in that now than where we were.

I also think, we've done some pre-integration work both internally here, and we've had some contact with the M&M team largely focused on business continuity in day one. But in those interactions we are extremely excited. There's a lot of energy with the teams. It's a great group of people coming over from M&M. And we're really excited about the combined portfolio and being able to really partner with customers and accelerate some of the things we talked about, on both the cost and revenue side of things, as we go forward. So just such a great complementary businesses with people that are really excited to get after it.

David Begleiter
Analyst at Deutsche Bank Aktiengesellschaft

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Kevin McCarthy with Vertical Research Partners. Please proceed with your questions.

Kevin McCarthy
Analyst at Vertical Research Partners

Good morning. Scott, it looks like your cash flow is trending roughly $300 million for the better on an apples-to-apples basis allowing you to absorb your deal-related and transaction fees. Can you speak to what you're embedding in that number these days for working capital this year and other swing factors aside from earnings variances?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Kevin, we're not changing really the working capital assumptions materially versus what we assumed at the beginning of the year. So, assume kind of the same type of inflationary environment that we've been in. Now if that were to turn a bit and we get relief there then we will have a fairly sizable working capital pickup that we have not baked in to that number. I mean that increase that we put out there is really driven by two things, higher earnings as well as the reduction of capex by about $50 million.

Kevin McCarthy
Analyst at Vertical Research Partners

Okay. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Matthew DeYoe with Bank of America. Please proceed with your questions.

Matthew DeYoe
Analyst at Bank of America

Good morning. I just wanted to hash out a little bit the performance in EM EBITDA. So I know, JV income increased certainly and I know price was up 7% sequentially and you had Santoprene. But it seemed like you got all the tailwinds without any raw material headwinds or anything that we've kind of discussed. So, is there something that we're missing from there or that I'm missing from an operating leverage standpoint? Was lower acid a tailwind actually to raws?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Again, if we look at -- Matthew, I'm sorry, I'm assuming your question was kind of fourth quarter to first quarter?

Matthew DeYoe
Analyst at Bank of America

Yes, exactly. Sorry.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Okay. Yeah. I think look, we had record revenues for the quarter. We saw demand remaining strong. We had the growth, especially in auto again some of that being pulled forward from second quarter. Our volumes were up, two-thirds of it Santoprene, but about a third of it everything else. Our price was up. But actually I would say, our price was up but it was offset by the rising raws and rising energy.

We saw energy going up continuing to go up in Europe for the quarter. We saw raw materials going up for the quarter. Ethylene costs were up globally, which certainly has a big impact in Engineered Materials. So, I would say, we actually continue to see increases in all of those areas. And just -- and that's really -- so price kind of got netted out with raw materials. And then, affiliates were up in the first quarter kind of typical with seasonality, but also good performance at KEP and Infraserv in particular.

Matthew DeYoe
Analyst at Bank of America

Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. So I mean I used to think of KEPCO as something like $27 million contribution annually I think. And that's going to move to the -- one is that still right? Two, because I know that moves into the line item by 3Q, so I just want to make sure I have that number right. And then as we move into 2Q, what do you expect on the direction for JV income?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Let me handle the KEP question first. So I think if you look at what we said is on an incremental run rate basis once we get the synergies fully realized, we'd expect to have about $25 million to $40 million incremental, Matthew. Now Q2, Q3 are going to be what I would call a transition quarter. So really Q4 is when you're going to start to see that kind of things really flow through with the new flows as we expect. And then I think we'll start to get in that first year of those synergies. We'll probably get about half of that number would be my guess. So you can kind of -- there'll be a few million maybe incremental in the fourth quarter and then into Q1.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

So for affiliates in Q2, we expect that to be roughly flat with Q1.

Matthew DeYoe
Analyst at Bank of America

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Arun Viswanathan with RBC Capital Markets. Please proceed with your question.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

Great. Thanks for taking my question. I guess, first off, just when you think about the Q2 guidance for AC, the $425 million and the full year at $1.6 billion, obviously, it assumes a moderation that in second half and in Q2. In Q1, I think you went into the quarter seeing potentially forecasting some moderation, which didn't necessarily materialize and that's been the case for a number of prior quarters as well. So when you think about the rest of the year, maybe if you can just lay out some of the drivers that you see that drives that moderation. Obviously there are some issues around China and there's some issues with feedstock costs coming down. But what else I guess would you cite as to some of those drivers?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Look I would say in Q1, we did see moderation. I mean from peak to trough, the peak in Q4 to the trough in Q1, we saw about a $600 per ton reduction in acid price in China. Even average to average was about $300. So I think we are seeing moderation in China acid. What I would say is that has been pretty much an Eastern phenomena. So we've been able to take volumes and pivot to the West, where we saw margins maintained in the Western Hemisphere. And we've been able to pivot to the downstream and with strong demand for VAM continuing.

But also we noticed especially emulsions products, redispersible powders, EVA. I mean, I think we called it out in the comments but for the first time ever 25% of our earnings in acetic acid were really -- were due to just RDP and emulsions products. So that's pretty amazing if you think about it. So I mean that's the power of our model.

As we look at it, I mean, another way to think about this I mean we refer a lot to 2018 is in 2018, 78% of our earnings in the Acetyl Chain came from acetic acid. In this quarter, 50% of our earnings came from acetic acid. So I think what we've called out, which is a moderating acetic acid is absolutely true. The numbers support it for the first quarter.

We expect that to further moderate as we move into the second quarter. And in time we -- Western Hemisphere prices will start to trend down and margins trending down as well. Ethylene price is going to continue to increase in second quarter, so that's going to cause a little bit of further margin compression. And that will continue we believe as we go through the year.

Now we've said that for a while. Fortunately the moderation has started later and gone slower than we anticipated in our original outlook, which is why we've been able to raise our outlook on Acetyl Chain. I would also say we talk a lot about foundational earnings. And I think previously we had called out getting to a foundational level of earnings in the second half of this year. I think we typically call foundational earnings. We have been saying $1 billion or slightly above. But I think as we're seeing the industry fundamentals change, the supply-demand continue to be tight even with the addition of a little bit of extra capacity in China, we've really seen the strength of our models, continue to develop especially our ability to generate good margins and income out of our downstream derivatives.

The stronger Western demand we've seen, our very bullish outlook by our customers. Plus we have investments coming on Clear Lake early next year other VAM VAE expansions towards the end of next year all that additional optionality we're getting, clearly we think those foundational earnings -- our level of earnings are growing something well above that $1 billion. And so altogether, I'd say while we are starting to moderate and returning to a more foundational level of earnings that foundational level of earnings has increased measurably versus where we used to be.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

Great. Thanks. And similarly for EM would you say that the foundational level of earnings has also increased when most of your markets including electrosurgery come back? Thanks.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Look, I think what we're seeing in EM is the really great work by our folks over all of the many last years to really grow our pipeline model, grow our programs, move more of our molecules into value applications, higher-margin applications where we are maybe one of two people who can provide that material, which gives us more pricing power, the ability to work with our customers to pass through, the higher raws that we're seeing moving into higher end markets. I think you're seeing really kind of all the results of that work that's been going on for several years really coming to fruition and getting us to a level of earnings that we think we can maintain going forward through a wide variety of economic scenarios.

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yeah. And that model continues to evolve with the acquisitions coming in. I mean the Santoprene acquisition has proven to be additive to the model. The team is bringing different ideas. The synergies are coming in strongly there. And then we would expect to replicate that with M&M as well as a way to continue to hone and take the best of these acquired businesses and continued really to grow that model there in EM and elevate those foundational earnings to a much higher level.

Arun Viswanathan
Analyst at RBC Capital Markets

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Laurence Alexander with Jefferies. Please proceed with your question.

Laurence Alexander
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Good morning. So a question on the comments around like appreciating the regional mix. As you think longer term sort of after the Clear Lake expansion, what would be kind of the minimum levels of coal and oil-based vertical integration you would like to keep in the portfolio? And can you also tie that to how you're thinking about the next few rounds of technology the innovation cycle? My impression is you've been making faster progress reducing capex and opex on the natural gas-based projects. Is that true or are you getting the same progress on all three platforms?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yeah. Let me answer your first question. On the regional mix, look as we bring Clear Lake in, one we think it's great, because it's based on natural gas, which even with the increases in natural gas continues to be we believe the lowest-cost producer of acetic acid in the world today. So that's great optionality for us to have. But we get the credit for that project, even if we run at the same rates as today and take it in the form of productivity which is catalyst and other chemical savings. So we like the optionality that Clear Lake brings. But we also like the optionality of having material in China and material in Singapore. Remember, a big portion of our value proposition to our customers is the fact that we produce what we need in a region in that region.

And so the fact that we can produce in China, for China surrounding areas, in Singapore for kind of Asia outside of China, India and other areas really has helped us, especially as we've gone through these issues around logistics and everything else because we're not having to put everything we make on a boat and take it somewhere else. A lot of stuff can stay within the region where we've had a lot less logistics challenges. And obviously, we still ship to Europe. And so there's still an element of that, but it's very different than someone who has one plant in one place and is trying to serve the world from there. So we like having the regional mix.

We believe our technology makes us one of the cheapest producers from coal. In China, coal-based acetic acid is going to continue to be the marginal producer in the world today. Even at these high oil prices because we're also at higher oil prices, Singapore continues to be an attractive place to produce acetic acid. So we think all three of our plants continue to be well positioned to be competitive to make acetic acid going forward. And again, we like the optionality that having three different facilities in kind of three unique places in the world brings us.

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes. And on the innovation front Laurence, I would say our focus really is on aggressively looking at energy reduction projects across the globe. As gas prices, oil prices, coal has all moved up, our energy costs have moved up and we're looking at ways at which we can lower that. So in this environment those paybacks become more attractive and so our team is doing a great job of bringing those projects forward.

Laurence Alexander
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

And then does the European carbon border adjustment program, is that a net benefit or a headwind for Celanese once it's implemented?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. I'm not sure but -- I don't know how we would be relative to our competition. I mean what I would say is our facilities in Europe tend to be highly energy efficient. So if you look at our European facilities, they produce only 20% of our scope one and two greenhouse gas emissions but they represent about 40% of our sales. So I can't tell you exactly how that works out with the border adjustment, but I can tell you we think when you look at all of the proposals under that Fit for 55 that we're pretty well positioned given that we have a pretty efficient footprint already in Europe to start from.

Laurence Alexander
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Aleksey Yefremov with KeyBanc Capital Markets. Please proceed with your question.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thanks. Good morning, everyone. In your prepared remarks you're talking about improved product mix in Engineered Materials as one of the reasons for raising guidance. Could you maybe elaborate on this?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. It's a little bit in line with what I said earlier is that we've really focused on the years of adjusting our portfolio into higher-margin, higher-value end applications. So maybe a specific example, say last year versus this year. As you know, last year we called about a lot of the time how medical but really specifically implants because we weren't seeing elective surgery recover as quickly was a drag on our earnings last year. And now if we look at 2022, we really see not in first quarter that's a seasonal thing with implants. People wait until there's -- that they're deductible. But we're seeing second quarter and beyond implants coming back to their pre-COVID levels of demand.

And so therefore, that's a positive product mix impact because that's a higher-margin application than maybe other GUR applications that those go into. So -- and we're seeing that in multiple places where we're seeing demand for our higher-margin materials come up. We also have got new business, which is coming on that are higher margin and higher end use applications. And so for the same volume we achieve a higher margin and that's reflected in our comments in product mix.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thank you, Lori. And a follow-up for Scott. What kind of discussions you had with rating agencies? And what's your level of confidence if you're kind of playing out different scenarios for the back half of the year that you'll retain investment-grade rating?

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes. I mean look we've had very open discussions with the rating agencies, when we -- starting when we first announced the deal and we feel good about that. Ultimately, we're focusing on what we can control. And the raise of earnings guidance, we've got upside in kind of where things are coming out right now. We also have added Fitch. They launched here a couple of weeks ago. And as we kind of looked at it and given the size that the company is getting to and we looked at peer companies most companies have three rating agencies.

So bringing Fitch on and those conversations were very good as well just recently and they issued a first-time credit rating of BBB- with a stable outlook. So we feel good about where things are and we feel really good about kind of where we're going to be at close really driven by the increased free cash flow and the improved earnings.

Aleksey Yefremov
Analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next questions come from the line of Matthew Blair with Tudor, Pickering, Holt. Please proceed with your questions.

Matthew Blair
Analyst at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Good morning. Lori you mentioned the two outages that Celanese had in the first quarter in your Acetyl Chain. Is there like a lost profit number that we can put on that? Or do you think the lower volumes were simply made up with higher pricing?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Yes. So, the majority of the outages in first quarter were outages that we were anticipating, so they were planned turnarounds in Clear Lake for VAM, for methanol, for assets. Some of them we pulled forward from second quarter due to some unanticipated issues. But because we knew the outages were coming up we were able to buy material from others. We store inventory. We make sure that we're covered for our customers that we can provide them what they need during those periods of time. So, you really don't see a really big impact from that.

And even from a cost standpoint -- turnaround cost standpoint, last year, we spent about $40 million on turnaround. We'll spend about the same this year about half of that was in the first quarter. But again with our average level of spending, it's not something that's really going to show up in any given quarter in a meaningful way. So, I think because of the planned nature of these events, they're really covered within our guidance and within the outlook and kind of, our ability to predict in a quarter.

Matthew Blair
Analyst at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Great. I'll leave it there. Thanks.

Brandon Ayache
Vice President, Investor Relations at Celanese

Daryl, we'll take one more question please.

Operator

Thank you. Our final questions come from the line of Steve Richardson with Evercore ISI. Please proceed with your questions.

Kiesean Riddick
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Hi, this is Kiesean on for Steve. Lori it was interesting to see your capex guidance kind of reduced to $550 million. So, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more to that just in terms of was it due to cost savings or a push of some capex into 2023? I know it's a bit early to speak on that, but whatever insight you could provide would be great. Thank you.

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

Sure. Look on capex, we've called it out before. We think organic growth through capex is really our best use of cash. We get high 20%-plus returns on our capex. And we're very deliberate about how we spend that money, very disciplined. It's also something we manage real-time. So, Scott and I meet every quarter with the businesses and really go through where we are in capex what new projects have emerged, where do we need to reconsider.

And so I would say what you're seeing the $50 million reduction that we called out was really an outcome of that disciplined process, adding on the layer of the DuPont M&M acquisition. So, with DuPont M&M, for example, we're getting a significant amount of compounding in Asia. Some of our capex we had earmarked this year was to expand compounding in Asia. And clearly, we don't want to go build something if we've just bought something that will meet our needs and we think there's some extra capacity there.

So, what I would say is we've deferred any decision on some of the capex where we believe there may be overlap with DuPont, so we don't spend money that we might regret later. But I would say it's a living thing. We may come back in another quarter and have a further reduction or we may have an add because again we believe capex is a really good use of our money. We get really high returns and so we'll continue to manage it as we always have done in a very disciplined way.

Kiesean Riddick
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Great. Thank you. And just in terms of a quick follow-up. You mentioned targeting cash harvesting projects. So with the recent restructuring of the JV, could you speak on the process of the JV actually unlocking that additional value? And should we expect to see additional announcements moving forward for other JVs?

Lori J. Ryerkerk
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Celanese

So, let me -- I'll ask Scott to specifically comment on the KEPCO JV there. What I would say is we took a big step last year already with the sale of PPC Fortron some of our other JVs. I would say we like the way they're structured. We believe we get good value out of those JVs.

So, I wouldn't think that's the only target. I mean we're really looking at all of our businesses as I said. Opportunistically, if something emerges where it makes more sense to sell to somebody, we would consider it. But our first focus of course is just continuing to grow earnings and continue to grow cash flow on a very robust and healthy base business.

Scott A. Richardson
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Celanese

Yes. We've talked openly for a number of years about unlocking more value here. And Polyplastics was a sale a few years ago. We felt like that was the most opportunistic plan we had to be able to really unlock a lot of value there. For KEP as we looked at that and worked with the partner it was restructuring that venture. And we'll continue to look and be opportunistic if we can find ways with our partners to add more value for the Celanese shareholders.

Kiesean Riddick
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Great.

Operator

That is all the time we have for questions today. I would now like to turn the call back over to Brandon Ayache for any closing comments.

Brandon Ayache
Vice President, Investor Relations at Celanese

Thank you. We'd like to thank everybody for listening in today. As usual, we're available after the call for any follow-up questions. Daryl, please go head and close out the call.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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