Ball’s first quarter 2018 comparable net earnings were $180 million, or 50 cents per diluted share, compared to $136 million, or 38 cents per diluted share in 2017.
“Ball Corporation started the year strong, posting improved performance across each of our product lines, with comparable operating earnings up 13% in our global beverage operations, 19% in our aerospace business and 10% in our food and aerosol business and with lower overall corporate costs year-over-year,” said John A. Hayes, chairman, president and CEO.
“In our global beverage can business, overall volumes were up low single-digits in the quarter, driven largely by continued strong performance in South America and Europe,” Hayes reported. “Global consumers continue to support the beverage can as the most sustainable package relative to less environmentally friendly packages. In addition, our food and aerosol segment improved operational efficiencies on recently deployed tinplate flat sheet production and aluminum aerosol capital investments, and our aerospace business grew operating earnings in line with revenue growth.
“Our numerous growth capital and network optimization projects to align our beverage can portfolio are on track, and our aerospace infrastructure expansion projects are ahead of schedule and will support the ramp up of significant multi-year programs and labor growth,” Hayes concluded. “With this momentum, we have begun to accelerate the return of capital to our shareholders, and we continue to reaffirm our financial goals of $2 billion of comparable EBITDA and in excess of $1 billion of free cash flow in 2019.”
Beverage Packaging, North and Central America
Beverage packaging, North and Central America, comparable segment operating earnings in the first quarter of 2018 were $113 million on sales of $1 billion, compared to $123 million on sales of $949 million in the first quarter 2017.
The construction of a state-of-the-art specialty beverage can manufacturing facility in Goodyear, AZ, is on track with production beginning early in the second half of 2018.
Beverage Packaging, South America
Beverage packaging, South America, comparable segment operating earnings in the first quarter of 2018 were $98 million on sales of $459 million, compared to $58 million on sales of $371 million in the first quarter of 2017.
Beverage Packaging, Europe
Beverage packaging, Europe, comparable segment operating earnings in the first quarter of 2018 were $60 million on sales of $609 million, compared to $47 million on sales of $508 million in 2017. Comparable first quarter 2018 segment operating earnings include $8 million of incremental year-over-year depreciation expense related to the Rexam transaction. The company’s new aluminum beverage can facility near Madrid, Spain, is scheduled to start production in mid-2018.
Food and Aerosol Packaging
Food and aerosol packaging comparable segment operating earnings in the first quarter of 2018 were $23 million on sales of $275 million, compared to $21 million on sales of $272 million in 2017.
Aerospace comparable segment operating earnings in the first quarter of 2018 were $25 million on sales of $264 million, compared to $21 million on sales of $236 million in the first quarter of 2017. The aerospace segment finished the first quarter with contracted backlog of $1.7 billion and hiring continues at a rapid pace. Colorado facility expansions in Westminster and Boulder, CO, are on track for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018.
“We continue to expect our 2018 free cash flow to be in the range of $900 million after capital spending of at least $600 million, and we expect to return at least $500 million to shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividends this year,” said Scott C. Morrison, SVP and CFO.