Major chemical makers are happy about their first-quarter results, even though sales and earnings were generally down from the prior year. Executives had thought the period would be rougher than it turned out to be and are taking solace in a few bright spots in the economy.
The German chemical maker Covestro saw sales decline by 20% and earnings run at a modest loss for the quarter. In a video posted on the company’s website, CEO Markus Steilemann blamed “the general economic condition and the weak demand that we were facing.”
However, Steilemann noted that earnings before taxes were $316 million, about twice as high as Covestro expected.In remarks to analysts, BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller said that chemical production had stagnated compared with the year-earlier quarter, and the weakness was most pronounced in Europe.
Sales at the firm, the world’s largest chemical ma- ker, declined by 13%, and earnings fell 29%.
Brudermüller cited two exceptions to weak demand: agriculture and the auto industry. He said that global production of light vehicles had risen 5.7% from a year earlier and that energy costs had eased.
Results at Eastman Chemical, where sales and earnings declined by 11% and 28%, respectively, also beat expectations, executives said. Two areas of particular weakness that Eastman officials are watching are construction and consumer durables. “Increased risks around the U.S. housing market have continued to weigh on sentiment,” CEO Mark Costa and Chief Financial Officer William McLain said in prepared remarks.
Solvay’s results were an outlier among big chemical companies. Its sales increased by 4% and its earnings by 24%. In the earnings statement, CEO Ilham Kadri credits her company’s own efforts. “We sustained pricing in the context of a higher cost and weaker demand environment,” she said.