announced first quarter 2019 sales of CHF 1.715 billion compared to CHF 1.722 billion in the first quarter of 2018. This corresponds to a two percent organic growth in local currency, driven by higher pricing in all Business Areas versus a high comparison base.
On a regional basis, the sales development in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East & Africa all reflected single-digit growth in local currency. Both North America and Asia reported a slightly negative growth of one percent. The continued weaker demand in China negatively influenced group sales development in the first quarter.
The improved sales performance in the first quarter of 2019 resulted from expansion in the Business Areas Care Chemicals, Catalysis and Natural Resources. Sales in Care Chemicals increased by two percent in local currency although they were unfavorably impacted by the Aviation business due to the mild weather. Excluding Aviation, Care Chemicals sales rose in good mid-single digits in local currency. This growth was primarily driven by an excellent Consumer Care development. Catalysis sales grew by a good four percent in local currency compared to a record first quarter in the previous year. Natural Resources sales accelerated by 10 percent in local currency, mainly lifted by good Oil & Mining Services demand but also solid growth in Functional Minerals.
In Plastics & Coatings, sales declined by two percent in local currency, largely as a result of the weaker than anticipated automotive and plastics markets as well as the further economic slowdown, particularly in China. However, the underlying demand in China remains solid and Clariant expects to see a gradual improvement throughout the remainder of 2019.
The newly reported EBITDA after exceptional items reached CHF 236 million with a corresponding margin of 13.8 percent. The eight percent lower absolute EBITDA after exceptional items is the result of weaker profitability in Plastics & Coatings and higher project costs relating to Clariant’s step change into higher value specialties announced in September 2018. The work on the respective projects is progressing well. Care Chemicals and Catalysis both reported a significant positive progression year-on-year, while Natural Resources also delivered a sound profitability improvement quarter-on-quarter as anticipated.