3M lowered its full-year outlook Thursday after reporting a 2% sales drop for the third quarter, another sign for investors that conditions for multinational manufacturers continue to soften.
The Maplewood-based conglomerate reported weakness on a geographic level, with declines in China and Europe, and by its business segment. Its two largest businesses units — safety & industrial and transportation & electronics — reported lower sales.
Net income, however, rose 2.5% to $1.58 billion, or $2.72 a share. That was well above the $2.49 consensus forecast of analysts as the company got a boost from cost cuts, internal-inventory reductions and proceeds from selling its gas and flame detection business.
"While the macroeconomic environment remains challenging, we executed well and built on the progress we made in the second quarter. We continued to effectively manage costs and reduce inventory levels, while generating strong margins and cash flow," CEO Mike Roman told analysts during a morning conference call.
Revenue was $7.99 billion, below analysts' consensus forecast of $8.16 billion. 3M officials noted small sales gains across the United States, Canada and Latin America but said they were insufficient to overcome sales declines across Europe and China.
Executives said they now expect full-year profit of $8.20 to $8.30 per share, instead of the prior guidance of $8.25 to $8.75 per share.
The company's shares fell 4% to close at $161.89 per share Thursday. The stock is down significantly from $250 as of January 2018.
Edward Jones Research Analyst Matt Arnold said in an e-mail that 3M delivered a quarter with "mixed" news, pointing to the industrial and electronics markets as weak spots.
"While the company delivered better-than-expected earnings in a challenging environment, the outlook reduction suggests further weakening in revenue trends in the fourth quarter," Arnold said. "The weakness appears to be driven by softening economic growth amid elevated trade uncertainty."
3M Chief Financial Officer Nick Gangestad told analysts that organic growth in China fell 9% during the quarter and that its automotive and electronics sales there were directly affected. He added that China sales are expected to be down in the mid-single digits for the full 2019 year.
The International Monetary Fund said the world's economy is expected to grow at its slowest rate this year since the 2009 recession, and China's economy continues to decelerate.
Roman told analysts that global consumer electronics and automotive markets remain "soft" but are expected to improve sometime next year, barring a recession. The lackluster demand in the auto industry has decreased factory production in that sector, which has affected suppliers like 3M worldwide, he said.
In a note to investors, Goldman Sachs analyst Joe Ritchie said his "bottom line" takeaway was that he expected 3M's stock to underperform as investors digested 3M's missed revenue growth and its reduced guidance for 2019.
Sales of 3M's largest unit — safety & industrial — fell 5.7% to $2.8 billion amid lackluster demand for 3M's personal safety, abrasives, industrial adhesives and automotive aftermarket products. Sales in its transportation & electronics unit fell 4.4% to $2.5 billion as demand slipped for automotive, aerospace and electrical products.
On a bright note, 3M health care sales shot up 4.7% while its consumer products division sales rose 1.7%.
Roman also noted the recent closing of the largest acquisition in 3M's history: the $6.7 billion purchase of the Acelity, Inc. specialty wound-care products firm. He called that move "exciting."
The change in earnings outlook included effects from significant litigation-related charges of 72 cents per share from the first quarter, the second-quarter deconsolidation of its Venezuelan subsidiary charge of 28 cents per share, and the gas and flame detection divestiture gain of 21 cents per share.
Excluding those items, 3M expects a profit of $8.99 to $9.09 per share for the full year. That's down from the prior expectation of $9.25 to $9.75. These updated adjusted earnings include a 15 cent negative impact from the recently closed acquisition of Acelity.
Roman told analysts that 3M continues to be vigilant of the effect of many PFAS lawsuits claiming that chemicals from 3M's manufacturing of nonstick, waterproofing and Scotchguard allegedly leached into groundwater and drinking-water sources across the country.
"We continue to proactively manage this issue," Roman said.
With respect to the more than 116 PFAS fire-foam lawsuits being funneled into multidistrict litigation proceedings in a South Carolina court, Roman said: "It is still in the early phases. … The earliest trials will begin in spring 2020."
He did not provide cost estimates for 3M's PFAS fire-foam exposure.
The issue has erupted countrywide as scores of military and firefighting training bases across the country found that PFAS chemicals from firefighting foams were discovered in ground- and local drinking-water sources. Lawsuits have since piled in and are being routed to a court in South Carolina.
Investors are waiting to see how much the fire-foam litigation could ultimately cost 3M, DuPont, Chemours, Buckeye Fire, Tyco and other key PFAS chemical makers that now find themselves embroiled in hundreds of lawsuits.
3M has reserved $235 million, but those costs are associated only with remediating PFAS from 3M's own chemical factories and disposal sites, Roman said previously.
3M separately settled with the state of Minnesota last year, agreeing to pay $850 million to clean up contaminated water supplies across the east metro area, where 3M manufactured and disposed of PFAS chemicals since the 1950s.
Earlier this year, 3M also agreed to pay a water authority near its Decatur, Ala., facility about $35 million to help clean up chemicals that leached into the Tennessee River.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725