Cleanser and additive chemical maker Ecolab Inc. reported a strong fourth quarter Tuesday — and expects a strong year moving forward — bypassing Wall Street's worries that the company's oil and gas chemical supply division might be slammed by plummeting oil prices.
Relieved investors sent Ecolab's stock up $1.59 a share to a close of $113.
While other industrial behemoths took a hit from sagging oil prices, Ecolab's sales for its energy chemicals division grew 11 percent during the quarter to $1.14 billion. In contrast, its non-energy industrial and institutional businesses grew 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
Combined, the St. Paul-based company saw earnings rise 17 percent to $335.5 million, or $1.10. Excluding one-time charges and tax items, quarterly earnings were $1.20 a share and in line with Wall Street forecasts.
Sales rose 3.3 percent to $3.7 billion amid strong gains in Latin America, increases in energy and specialty products and new product introductions.
For all of 2014, sales rose 7.7 percent to $14.3 billion, which met analysts' expectations. Annual profits rose 24 percent to $1.2 billion, or $3.93 a share. That was below the $4.18 a share expected by analysts.
The company acknowledged that lower oil prices worldwide will slow its energy segment results in 2015. But CEO Douglas Baker said, "The strength of [the unit's] recurring business model makes us confident it will be accretive to the year. At the same time, our other businesses will benefit from lower raw material costs."
On a net basis "these factors should roughly offset each other," he said.
Ecolab is perceived as being somewhat sensitive to the swings in the oil and gas sector after two key acquisitions in 2011 and 2013. The purchases of Nalco in 2011 and of Champion Technology in 2013 gave it the ability to make additives and processes that can separate oil and water; take out corrosives and declump oil sludge. It sells its chemicals to refineries, oil rigs and drilling firms and other segments of the industry.
Baker announced that Ecolab will launch a $1 billion share repurchase plan and accelerate its acquisitions strategy. He also said that full year 2015 earnings are expected to rise 8 to 12 percent to $4.50 to $4.70 a share. The guidance anticipates a negative hit from unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates.