3M sees slow economy now, growth picking up later

3M feels slow economic growth; 2Q profit dampened by LCD sales falloff and Japan impact

Associated Press
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- 3M Co. said on Tuesday that higher fuel and commodity prices are holding back consumer spending and slowing the economic recovery.3M's profit rose 3.4 percent in the second quarter. Beyond its own results, 3M is seen as an economic bellwether because it makes products ranging from Post-it notes and Scotch tape to roofing shingles, screens for LCD televisions and phones, and other coatings for traffic signs and industrial adhesives.Chairman and CEO George Buckley said Tuesday that right now the economy is in a "slow spot." 3M expects growth to pick up again once commodity and fuel prices subside, allowing consumers and business to spend money "elsewhere in the economy."Buckley said indicators are positive for the U.S. and most of Europe, "so I remain mildly optimistic, not for a huge growth spurt, but for gradually improving market conditions late in the third quarter."Still, even slow economic growth helps 3M. Second-quarter profit rose to $1.16 billion from $1.12 billion. At $1.60 per share, net income was slightly above analyst expectations. Revenue rose 14 percent to $7.68 billion, also above analyst expectations. All six divisions turned a profit.Still shares of 3M fell as other big companies also spoke cautiously about economic growth and investors nervously eyed the gridlock in Washington over the nation's debt limit.3M fell $5.14, or 5.4 percent, to close at $89.93 Tuesday. It's a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and was the driving force behind the Dow's 91.5-point decline on Tuesday. UPS, the world's largest shipping company, also said the slow economy was hurting results. Its shares fell more than 3.3 percent, down $2.46 to $71.59."What we're seeing today from numerous companies has been, even if you've met expectations, there's a little more weakness noted," said Jeff Windau, a research analyst for Edward Jones.3M is paying more for raw goods such as steel, fuel, and chemicals. To cover those higher costs it raised its own prices 0.8 percent during the quarter. It's aiming to raise prices enough to cover all of its higher raw material costs, but it hasn't gotten there yet, said Chief Financial Officer David Meline.3M's profit would have been higher if not for the March earthquake in Japan and a sharper-than-expected slowdown in demand for the films 3M makes for coating LCD television screens.The earthquake hurt sales growth by 2.4 percentage points, and cut 7 cents per share from 3M's profit. Much of the impact was on Japanese auto manufacturers, who have been dealing with unreliable power. The company said insurance covering business interruption should eventually cover at least some of that loss. And it expects to benefit as Japan rebuilds and needs products including traffic signs and safety equipment.The slowdown with LCD films could be longer-lasting. 3M has long made films that increase the brightness of LCD televisions. That was a booming business during the years when viewers were switching from old glass-screen TVs to flat-panel displays. Most of them have switched by now, though.3M's films have generally been an expensive addition to those TVs -- and now TV-makers are looking for cheaper alternatives. Sales of those films fell 22 percent in the last quarter, faster than 3M expected.Buckley noted that LCD television films are less than 40 percent of its optical film business, which also includes smartphones and tablet computers."Overall, optical is a fine business, with $1.6 billion in annual sales" and operating margins above 20 percent, he said. Even though sales in the division including films fell 10.6 percent to $973 million, it still had operating income of $222 million.Maplewood, Minn.-based 3M raised the low end of its full-year guidance by 5 cents, to $6.05 to $6.25 per share. Analysts have been expecting $6.23. It expects full-year profits to be hurt by 11 cents to 12 cents per share by the impact of the Japan earthquake.

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