3M Co. stock hit a 52-week high Thursday after third-quarter earnings beat expectations and the company showed solid growth.
The Maplewood-based giant said quarterly sales were particularly strong in high-tech ceramics, automotive and airplane adhesives, industrial tapes and roofing granules. Such products helped boost companywide sales 5.6 percent to a record $7.9 billion. Earnings rose 5.9 percent to $1.2 billion or $1.78 a share, 3 cents higher than analyst expectations.
“On the growth side, we are pleased,” CEO Inge Thulin told analysts during a conference call Thursday. “We have had steady growth in consumer and health care for several quarters, and this quarter you saw electronics turn up and industrial business [really] turning up ... so the growth was very broad-based.”
The results prompted 3M to boost the low end of its forecast for the year.
Full 2013 earnings now are expected to reach $6.65 to $6.75 per share, compared with prior guidance of $6.60 to $6.85 per share. Revenue is expected to grow 3 to 4 percent, compared with the prior guidance of 2 to 5 percent. 3M had $30 billion in 2012 revenue.
3M’s stock closed Thursday at $123.49, up 29 cents, after hitting a 52-week high of $124.96 in early trading.
Officials noted that all five 3M businesses — industrial; health care; safety and graphics; consumer and electronics; and energy — showed strong growth during the quarter. Industrial, 3M’s largest business, surged 8.6 percent to $2.7 billion. 3M’s November 2012 purchase of high-tech ceramics firm Ceradyne contributed nearly half of that growth.
3M’s safety and graphics grew 6.7 percent to $1.4 billion. Health care sales grew 5.5 percent to $1.3 billion. Electronics grew 2.5 percent to $1.4 billion.
During the second quarter, the electronics/energy unit saw sales fall 3.2 percent as demand proved “soft” for consumer electronics and renewable energy products. For the third quarter, however, no such weakness was seen.
3M’s consumer business saw sales rise 2.1 percent to $1.2 billion. However, Thulin noted that 3M remains “very cautious” as the consumer division prepares for the fourth-quarter holiday season, during which 3M sells plenty of gift-wrapping tape and holiday-themed Post-it notes.
“All external factors that we see say that the holiday season will be flat and that is why we are very cautious as we go into the last quarter,” Thulin told analysts during a conference call Thursday.
But 3M is looking beyond the holidays. Thulin and CFO David Meline noted that the third quarter was marked by significant investments in research and development and the launching of 20 new product platforms. Some of the new products will enter the marketplace as soon as next year, Thulin said.
At least five of the new products will involve fresh industrial applications for 3M’s high-tech optical film technology, which is used in cellphones and laptops. Several other new products will stem from 3M’s Ceradyne business, which makes strong but lightweight ceramics used to make dental implants, military helmets, plane parts, protective windmill blade coatings and more.
The growth rate is “much better than what we are seeing in other industrials,” said Ajay Kejriwal, vice president of FBR Capital Markets in New York. Several global industrial firms are growing at a tepid 1 or 2 percent and not 5.5 percent, he and other analysts noted.
Barclays Capital research analyst Scott Davis said, “The top-line growth is really coming through and that supports what [they] have been trying to accomplish.”