First-quarter financial reports from major coatings manufacturers suggest that the uneven pace of the economic recovery is resulting in subdued growth in key coatings markets, with the industrial sector appearing to lag behind the architectural segment in rebounding from the 2001 downturn.

The Sherwin-Williams Co., PPG Industries Inc., DuPont Co., ICI plc, and Ferro Corp. reported declines in first-quarter earnings and sales from the same period a year earlier, and PPG announced additional restructuring moves aimed at reducing costs. Akzo Nobel said net income rose from the prior year, but operating income for the company's Coatings business fell slightly.

On the plus side, Rohm and Haas Co. reported a 20% increase in earnings, attributed in part to cost-reduction moves, while The Valspar Corp. said net income for its second quarter ended April 26 rose 45% from the prior-year period.

Executives with several companies are forecasting improved financial results in the second half of this year. But the companies said the strength of economic recovery appears to be uncertain, and indicated they are continuing to reduce costs and take other measures to address sales volumes that generally remain below levels of a year earlier. Also mentioned as a drag on results is the economic situation in Latin America, particularly in Argentina where a severe downturn has led to a devaluation of the peso.

In comments on his company's first-quarter results, Sherwin-Williams Chairman and CEO Christopher M. Connor said "some signs of a strengthening domestic economy are beginning to appear in certain markets in which we participate." But he added that "the broader economic recovery will be slow and will continue to impact our sales and profit improvements." The company reported first-quarter net income excluding accounting changes of $34.8 million, a 5.8% decline from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter fell 0.8%, to $1.15 billion.

Connor said the company anticipates "only a slow pick-up in the industrial and OEM markets" during the rest of the year.

DuPont said it expects business conditions in the United States and possibly in Europe to continue to improve during the second quarter, generating volume increases for most of its businesses. But a "significant period of demand growth is needed to absorb capacity before pricing strengthens in the manufacturing sector," the company said. Volume gains and lower raw material costs will be mitigated by a continued strong dollar and a "difficult price environment," the company said.

DuPont reported net income of $552 million excluding one-time items, a decline of 2.6% from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter fell 11%, to $6.8 billion. Key factors in earnings declines included selling prices that were 4% lower in local regions, a stronger U.S. dollar and reduced volumes, partially offset by lower raw-material costs, the company said. Net income including one-time items was $479 million, a decline of 4% from the prior-year period.

For DuPont's Coatings & Color Technologies segment, first-quarter operating income was $85 million, a decline of 39.3% from the prior-year period. Sales for the segment fell 5.6%, to $1.137 billion, with the decline resulting primarily from lower prices for OEM coatings and titanium dioxide pigments.

Other companies echoed the views expressed by executives with Sherwin-Williams and Du Pont. Results for those companies included the following:

  • Akzo Nobel reported first-quarter net income of 234 million euros (EUR), a 9% increase from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter rose less than 1%, to EUR 3.488 billion. For the company's Coatings business, operating income was EUR 87 million, a decline of 1.1% from the prior-year period. Coatings sales rose 2%, to EUR 1.337 billion. Sales rose for decorative, marine and protective and auto-refinish coatings, while sales for industrial coatings were described as "mixed." The company last year launched a restructuring of its coatings and chemicals operations, a program that is expected to eventually reduce the company's worldwide work force by 3,500 positions, or 5% of the employment total.

  • PPG reported first-quarter net income of $34 million, including one-time after-tax charges of $55 million for restructuring and $9 million for the cumulative effect of a required accounting change. Net income declined 40% from the first quarter of 2001, including a $71 million after-tax restructuring charge in the 2001 quarter. Sales for this year's first quarter declined 9.5%, to $1.9 billion.

    PPG's Coatings segment reported a 14.1% gain in first-quarter operating income, to $71 million, despite a 4.8% decline in sales, to $1.052 billion. The company said the drop in sales was the result of declines in automotive OEM and refinish coatings and industrial and aerospace-coatings volumes, with the sharpest retreats occurring in Europe. The operating-income gain was attributed to cost-cutting and lower raw-material costs.

  • Valspar reported net income of $34.534 million for the company's second quarter ended April 26, a 45% increase from the same period a year earlier. Sales for the quarter rose 8%, to $554 million. For the six-month period ended April 26, net income was $47.142 million, a 50.2% increase from the prior-year period. Sales for the six-month period rose 16%, to $985.042 million.

  • ICI reported first-quarter net income of ¿45 million (approximately $66 million U.S.), a 15% decline from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter fell 10.1%, to ¿1.474 billion ($2.1 billion), as sales growth in Asia was offset by declines in Europe and the Americas.

    For ICI's Paints business, first-quarter earnings were unchanged at ¿38 million ($55.6 million), while operating profit rose 6%, to ¿25 million ($36.6 million). Sales for the quarter declined 2%, to ¿509 million ($731 million).

  • Rohm and Haas reported first-quarter net income of $79 million, a 20% increase from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter fell 12%, to $1.34 billion. For the company's coatings segment, first-quarter net income from ongoing operations was $50 million, a 46% increase from the prior-year quarter. Sales for the segment declined less than 1%, to $425 million.

  • Ferro reported first-quarter net income of $7.2 million, a decline of 48.6% from the first quarter of 2001. Sales for the quarter rose 13.1%, to a record $426.8 million.

    Ferro's first-quarter coatings-segment operating income was $24.0 million, a gain of 8.9% from the prior-year quarter. Segment sales rose 24.5%, to $286.3 million, primarily as a result of the dmc2 acquisition.