Dow Chemical Beats Earnings Estimates on Higher Volumes
Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. (NYSE: DOW – $44.27) reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, as higher volumes across the board offset price declines in Western Europe related to the impact of the strong dollar. Excluding one-time items, earnings were $0.85 a share, up from $0.65 in the prior-year period. Revenue was flat at $14.38 billion, as volume gains in emerging areas were offset by a 14% price declines in Western Europe, including currency headwinds. Analysts had projected $0.69 a share in earnings and $14.48 billion in revenue. The company had expanded volume in most segments, led by a 9% increase in agriculture sciences. Performance materials saw a 7% increase while performance plastics was up 3%. In recent quarters, Dow has been trying to sell lower-margin business lines to raise $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion by the end of this year. Falling oil prices have sparked investor concerns about Dow and other petrochemical manufacturers in the U.S. Profit margins are bolstered in North America by cheap natural gas and other fuels that Dow and its peers use to make plastics and consumer goods, while foreign competitors tend to run plants on higher-priced oil-based feedstocks. Now that oil prices have fallen, some analysts have questioned whether Dow’s competitive edge may be fading. But Chief Executive Andrew N. Liveris said falling prices are good for the company. “We believe lower oil prices are a relative positive for Dow and a boost for the global economy,” he said. He went on to say the company’s global-cost positions helps it use assets more effectively and sell into higher-value sectors. Total return potential is attractive for Dow, complemented by a good dividend yield of 3.9%, at current levels. The dividend was recently increased by 14% starting with the first quarter payout and Dow increased its share buyback program by an additional $5 billion. The stock is reasonably priced at 14 times 2015 estimated earnings of $3.18 per share and cash flow per share could approach $6.00 this year. Investors with a tolerance for uncertainty might find something to like here, and aggressive accounts should do well over the longer-term to hold on.