3M's bottom line for the last three months of 2018 beat investor expectations, even as sales fell slightly and the operating performance of business units seesawed.
Executives on Tuesday lowered their outlook for 2019 for accounting reasons. But they were also more upbeat on operations than some expected, giving a lift to investor sentiment on global economic growth that has soured in recent weeks.
3M shares rose nearly 2 percent on a day when broader measures of the stock market were mixed.
"The fourth quarter capped an important year for 3M, as we posted good results and continued to take actions to strengthen our company for the future," said Mike Roman, who became chief executive of Maplewood-based 3M last summer.
3M said it earned $1.35 billion, or $2.27 a diluted share, in the last three months of the year. A year ago, it earned $523 million, or 85 cents a share. Its year-ago results were reduced by a charge related to the then-new federal tax law.
Adjusted for that and other one-time events, 3M's profit amounted to $2.31 a share, up from $2.10 a share a year ago and beating analysts' forecast of $2.28.
Revenue was $7.95 billion, down slightly from $7.99 billion a year ago. But adjusted for the effect of fluctuating value of various currencies, sales rose 3 percent and that growth was spread across business units and regions of the world.
The company's industrials business, which is its biggest and includes adhesives products for commercial use, reported an 8.1 percent gain in operating profit. Only its electronics and energy business, which is about one-third as big in sales, saw a bigger operating performance jump, at 8.2 percent.
Its three other business units — safety and graphics, health care and consumer — reported sales increases but declines in operating profit during the period.
"3M is seeing growth across all geographies and all business units, which we find encouraging," Jim Corridore, analyst at CFRA, told investors in a note after the results were announced. He maintained a "hold" recommendation on 3M shares but raised his outlook for 2019.
Company executives, however, tweaked their outlook lower, partly in response to 3M's recently announced acquisition of assets from M*Modal, a provider of health care products using artificial intelligence. Costs related to that purchase will reduce full-year profit by about 10 cents a share, they said.
Full-year 2019 earnings are now expected to be $10.45 to $10.90 a share, down from the prior forecast of $10.60 to $11.05 a share. By comparison, 3M's adjusted per-share profit was $10.46 for all of 2018.
3M also lowered its sales outlook, with executives saying that local currency sales are now expected to grow 1 to 4 percent, compared to the earlier guidance of 2 to 4 percent.
3M executives said growth is slowing in China, which accounts for about 10 percent of the company's revenue. Growth will also slow in select automotive, electronic and roofing granule products.
Rising trade tariff costs will affect 3M by about $70 million a year, prompting 3M to increase some of its prices, Nick Gangestad, the company's chief financial officer, said.
"Some of the things that we were expecting on tariffs haven't turned out quite as bad as what we were estimating" in November when the company last met with analysts, Gangestad said.
3M also expects to see continued strong sales of industrial advanced materials and adhesives, personal safety products and of food safety and health information products, executives said. Sales from the United States, Brazil and Mexico did particularly well, while sales in Western Europe were largely flat.