3M beat financial expectations for the first quarter, but officials said the win did not come easily and more cuts are needed.
Rising demand for personal safety, health and consumer goods during the coronavirus pandemic drove 3M's strong first-quarter results.
Yet a torrent of activity to shore up cash reserves, cut costs and manage supply chains and weak industrial sales helped 3M beat expectations even with adjusted earnings falling 2.7%.
On average, Wall Street analysts had expected the adjusted earnings to drop 9% and flat revenue. 3M's revenue for the quarter grew 2.7% to $8.1 billion.
Net income for the quarter ended March 31 rose 45% to $1.29 billion, or $2.22 a share. Excluding one-time events, earnings were $2.16 a share.
"It was kind of remarkable that they were able to keep revenue growth," said Kevin Earley, investment manager with Mairs & Power.
"They are doing the things we like to see 3M do. They already had some cost [reduction] programs in place and now they have got another round of cost containment efforts going on …[for] the second quarter," he said. "That speaks to the management and how they can react to the slowing environment."
3M said savings from actions such as furloughing workers in units affected most by the economic downturn, and additional actions it will take, will net $350 million to $400 million in savings during the second quarter.
3M also suspended its share repurchase plan, reduced its full-year capital expenditures from at least $1.6 billion to $1.3 billion, and boosted cash reserves by tapping $1.75 billion in debt programs.
As public companies across sectors have done, 3M withdrew its 2020 guidance because officials said they could not predict the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Going forward, CEO Mike Roman told analysts he would provide them with monthly revenue updates so investors could still keep track of sales progress.
For now, Roman said he is beginning to see "broad-based" recovery in China — especially in electrical and semiconductor products — but noted he is also still seeing soft global demand of auto, aerospace and products tied to oral care and elective surgeries.
The winner for the first quarter proved to be sales of disposable N95 respirators and products tied to food safety and biopharma filtration products, Roman said. Before the COVID-19 crisis, 3M's global sales of all disposable respirators contributed $600 million to annual revenue. Today those sales are higher, but the company did not disclose by how much.
Total health care sales grew 21% during the quarter, and consumer goods (which included masks sold in hardware stores) grew 4.6%. During the quarter, 3M's larger Safety & Industrial unit's sales fell 1%, and its Transportation and Electronics unit saw sales fall 5%.
3M's January through March results were welcome after a punishing end to 2019 when fourth-quarter earnings plunged 27% prompting 1,500 job cuts and $348 million in litigation and restructuring charges.
3M's stock price rose 2.6% Tuesday to close at $157.61. It is down from the 52-week high of $192.19 per share and far off the $250 a share high enjoyed in 2018.
Investors have been largely pleased with how 3M has handled the demands of COVID-19, said Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold. However, the problems that plagued the company going into 2020 — mainly possible liabilities from lawsuits involving PFAS chemicals — have affected the stock.
But with COVID-19 and 3M's strong ramp-up of N95 respiratory mask production, Arnold said the company will "benefit and that should at least serve as a partial offset to other businesses, which are likely to be very hard hit whether it is because of the shutdowns of production or their customers being shut in."
3M is on track to quadruple global production of N95 masks to 2.2 billion a year, including 50 million a month in the U.S., Roman said. The company is importing 166.5 million masks by the end of June from its factory in Shanghai.
3M's efforts won praise from Wall Street analysts who called 3M's COVID-19 work "aggressive" and "responsive."
Colin Scarola, CFRA research analyst, raised his 3M stock recommendation from "hold" to "buy" after noting that 3M beat Wall Street expectations with help from its health care and medical supply products.
"We expect industrial end markets to be weak throughout 2020" due to COVID-19 business shutdowns that started in March, Scarola said. Still, cost cuts should benefit profits while continuing medical sales should "limit 2020's revenue decline to 6%, much better than the downturn the broader economy will face, in our view."