Ecolab posts record second-quarter results, boosts guidance

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2014 - 9:58 PM

The industrial cleaning company’s results were driven by 20 percent growth in its energy division.

Ecolab Inc. reported record second-quarter earnings that met analysts’ expectations, due mostly to contributions from its 2013 Champion Technologies acquisition.

The St. Paul-based maker of cleaning and sanitizing/water purification chemicals and services boosted its outlook for the full year.

“We had a solid first half of the year and expect an even better second half,” CEO Doug Baker told analysts during a conference call Tuesday.

Adjusted earnings are now expected to reach $4.14 to $4.20 a share, up from the prior guidance of $4.10 to $4.20 a share, Baker said. If achieved, the new forecast will represent a 17 to 19 percent bump from 2013 results.

For the quarter ended June 30, Ecolab reported a 45 percent jump in operating earnings to $512 million, or $1.02 a share, which met analysts’ expectations.

Global sales growth beat analysts’ expectations slightly. Revenues rose 7 percent to $3.57 billion amid decent growth in water, food safety and pest control but very strong growth in the global energy segment.

Energy sales bolted 20 percent to $1.05 billion during the quarter as a result of Champion, which Ecolab bought in April 2013. Champion, with revenues of $1.3 billion at the time it was purchased, makes chemical additives and services that unclog and protect oil drilling rigs, pipelines, tanks, trucks and more.

With integration “on track,” the fast-growing energy unit is performing well. “Champion had a huge quarter,” Baker told analysts.

Ecolab’s energy division has skyrocketed in the 2 ½ years since the purchases of oil and gas service firms Nalco (for $8.3 billion) and Champion Technologies. During the first quarter, Ecolab’s energy sales bolted 78 percent. Company officials had said at the time that they expected significant growth again for the second quarter. Those final results rose 20 percent.

While energy was Ecolab’s fastest-growing business, industrial is its largest. Industrial grew 3 percent to $1.2 billion during the quarter amid higher demand for industrial water filtration and sanitizing chemical services to farms, factories, dairies, breweries and other food and beverage manufacturers. Sales were particularly strong in Latin America and Asia. The division’s challenging water filtration business for paper processors reported flat sales for the quarter.

Ecolab’s second-largest business, global institutional, increased sales 3 percent to $1.08 billion amid stronger demand from regular and fast-food restaurants, groceries and hotel customers. Sales were particularly robust in Latin America, North America and Asia, which helped offset sales declines in Europe.

Baker told analysts he was glad to see the return, albeit slow, of the restaurant business. Fast-food restaurant chains had slumped during the recession and have had a hard time bouncing back, he said. But the segment is improvin, as are results in Europe, he said. “Looking to the balance of the year, we expect to outperform market trends.”

Baker issued a forecast for the third quarter, saying that earnings should rise 13 to 17 percent to $1.18 to $1.22 a share. That forecast was in line with analysts’ expectations.

Ecolab’s shares closed down $1.19 a share, or 1 percent, to $109.83 Tuesday. Analysts were not put off by the dip, which they deemed temporary.

Christopher Muir, an equity analyst at S&P Capital IQ, reset his 2015 stock price target to $120 a share, which is down but still “a 30 percent premium to its specialty chemical peers.” Muir noted that Ecolab’s second quarter was strong enough that he maintained his 2014 earnings estimate of $4.18 a share.

“We see merger synergies, cost controls and higher volumes and prices driving growth,” Muir said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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