BASF SE (BAS) posted fourth-quarter profit that beat analyst estimates after improved demand from the auto industry boosted sales of catalysts and coatings.

Earnings before interest, tax and one-time items rose 18 percent to 1.45 billion euros ($2 billion), the Ludwigshafen, Germany-based company said today in a statement. The average estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey was for 1.34 billion euros.

Chief Executive Officer Kurt Bock has extended a savings drive, announcing 1,400 job cuts in the last 12 months as he works toward an operating profit target of 22 billion euros by the end of the decade. The company, which is shifting investment to Asia and the U.S. in the hunt for customers and cheaper energy, today said it expects earnings before special items to increase “slightly” this year while sales will probably decline.

“We do not expect strong tailwinds this year,” Bock said in today’s statement. “Nevertheless, we are cautiously optimistic with regards to global economic development.”

Sales rose 0.9 percent to 18.1 billion euros in the quarter, compared with a 18.2 billion-euro analyst estimates, hurt by a stronger euro. Net income gained 16 percent to 1.14 billion euros, with earnings per share at 1.24 euros.

The manufacturer is restructuring its paper chemicals business, cutting 250 jobs by the end of 2015. Declining demand for paper has led to too much capacity in the European market, it said in January.

BASF’s supervisory board will propose former CEO Juergen Hambrecht as chairman at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May, it said last week. The board is also suggesting British citizen Alison Carnwath for the chemical maker’s board for the first time. Current chairman Eggert Voscherau, 70, and Max Dietrich Kley, 73, are not available for re-election.

The company will also propose an annual dividend of 2.70 euros, up from 2.60 euros a year ago, it said on Feb. 20.

(Source: Bloomberg)