Slowing global economy hurts 3M

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2012 - 9:14 PM

The company cut its forecast as sales suffered in Europe and Asia. CEO Inge Thulin said he's staying with his strategy for the long term.

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Inge Thulin

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Even as its quarterly profit jumped nearly 7 percent, 3M Co. said Tuesday that it is slashing its full-year forecast because of continuing global economic weakness.

3M now expects earnings of $6.27 to $6.35 a share, which includes 3 cents tied to 3M's pending purchase of ceramics maker Ceradyne Inc. The previous 2012 earnings target called for $6.35 to $6.50 a share.

While some 3M units performed well overseas, a recession in Europe and slowing growth in Asia hurt sales for the Maplewood conglomerate. Revenue slid 0.4 percent to $7.5 billion because of negative foreign currency translations, as well as declines in security and electronic product sales.

News of the lower guidance for the year battered 3M's stock, which fell $3.80 to close at $88.73. 3M was the second-biggest loser in the Dow Jones industrial average Tuesday and was a major factor in the index's 243-point decline.

Ajay Kejriwal, senior research analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said that despite Wall Street's reaction, "I thought the quarter came in OK. I think margins across the board were holding really well for them, despite weak volumes we are seeing because of the weak economy."

For the third quarter, net income rose 6.7 percent to $1.16 billion, or $1.65 a share, from $1.09 billion, or $1.52, a year earlier. The results were in line with analysts' expectations.

In a conference call with analysts, CEO Inge Thulin applauded the company's operating performance and 3M's six businesses, which each posted operating margins that exceeded 21 percent. Meanwhile, raw material costs fell 2 percent and prices rose 1.1 percent.

Thulin also acknowledged the "slow growth economy" and "current economic realities" before downgrading his earnings forecast for the full year. He said market conditions in the third quarter are not expected to dramatically improve in the fourth.

Despite slowing economic growth in China, Thulin told analysts that 3M will continue its investments there because it believes in a long-term strategy of making goods for the Chinese marketplace.

"In China, the year has clearly not played out the way [people] expected. But short-term challenges will not divert us, so we will continue to invest," Thulin said.

For the quarter, 3M's largest unit, industrial and transportation, had sales of $2.6 billion, down 0.5 percent. Earnings for the division rose 9 percent to $575 million. Industrial sales were strongest for automotive and aerospace products and in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Renewable energy sales fell during the quarter.

3M's health care division and its consumer and office products unit saw sales rise 1.4 and 1.6 percent, respectively, during the quarter to $1.3 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively. Results came from growing demand for food safety, health information systems and skin/wound care products, as well as consumer health care products.

Health care and consumer sales were strong in Latin America, Canada and Asia. Consumer sales were flat in the United States and fell in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Sales for its display and graphics unit were flat at $936 million and were affected by lagging sales in Europe and Asia.

3M's safety, security and protection services business reported a 2.9 percent drop in sales to $926 million because of negative currency translations, as well as lower demand in the United States and Asia. The division's profit fell 2.8 percent during the quarter to $196 million.

3M's electronics and communications division saw a 2.5 percent spike in profit despite a 2.1 percent drop in third-quarter sales to $820 million. Results were affected by negative currency exchange rates, a drop in telecom and consumer electronics sales and a slowdown in Asia.

For the year, 3M expects unfavorable currency translations to reduce sales by 2.5 percent. Meanwhile, profit margins are expected to be in the 21.5 percent to 22 percent range.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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