Stocks endured their worst quarter in five and a half years as our trading session ended March 31, 2008. Wall Street sought to contain the spreading contagion of credit woes, high oil prices, job losses and continued weakness in the housing market as subprime worries continued to ooze sideways into the economy. Central bankers worldwide coordinated efforts with a cash infusion into the global system to keep tightening credit from having a domino effect on the rest of the economy, and the Fed injected over $200 billion into financial markets on March 10.
The Fed also cut interest rates two full basis points in three separate meetings this quarter. Volume was thin for much of March as investors sat on the sidelines waiting for a warmer investing climate. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index came in with a higher number than expected on the last day of our session, thus sparking a rally. “It is a function of the last day and window dressing, but it is being buttressed by the sense that there’s going to be this massive realignment of regulation for the markets, which I think most participants would agree is long overdue,” said Peter Kenny, Managing Director at Knight Equity Markets.
The PCI Comprehensive Index faltered, shedding 112.89 points, or 9.34 percent, to close at 1095.21. Declining issues easily outweighed advancing issues by a 27-to-7 count.
Despite a troubled quarter for the sector, DuPont climbed 2.67 points, or 6.06 percent this session. In January, DuPont reported fourth quarter income that surpassed expectations. DuPont reported net income of $545 million, or $0.57 per share, compared to net income of $422 million, or $0.45 per share earned in the same quarter a year ago. Analysts expected DuPont to earn $0.49 per share. DuPont pointed to its global vigor, and especially strong sales in the agricultural sector. Then, in mid-March, DuPont upped its outlook for first quarter earnings, saying that sales in emerging markets remain strong, and demand for its agricultural products warrants the improved estimates. DuPont raised its outlook for the quarter to $1.14 per share to $1.19 per share, up from $1.12 to $1.17 per share. DuPont ended at 46.76, and was the top dollar gainer.
Although PPG’s fourth quarter profit was up 27 percent, and bested analysts’ estimates, shares of PPG fell 9.72 points, or 13.84 percent, and closed at 60.51. In mid-January, PPG said it earned net income of $200 million, or $1.21 per share, on a 15-percent increase in revenues, to $2.87 billion. This compares to net income of $157 million, or $0.94 per share, and revenues of $2.5 billion earned in the comparable quarter a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of $1.12 per share on revenues of $2.74 billion. PPG received two downgrades during the quarter, both to “hold” from “buy.” Citigroup issued its downgrade on Feb. 20, 2008, and Deutsche Bank Securities cut its rating on March 7, 2008. PPG was the top dollar loser.
X-Rite dropped 5.65 points, or 48.62 percent this quarter after it swung to a loss for its fourth quarter. X-Rite lost $19.6 million, or $0.68 per share, versus a profit of $913,000, or $0.03 per share earned in the same quarter last year, and cited an acquisition and other costs. Sales were up 24 percent for the quarter $74.7 million. Pantone, acquired in October, was responsible for $8.5 million in total sales for the quarter. X-Rite ended at 5.97, and was the top percentage loser.
Eastman rose 1.36 points, or 2.23 percent and closed at 62.45. Citing higher pricing and stronger sales, Eastman reported earnings of $98 million, or $1.21 per share, versus earnings of $95 million, or $1.12 per share earned in the comparable year-ago quarter. Revenue was up 9 percent, to $1.74 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of $1.11 per share on $1.67 billion in revenue. Eastman also said it expects its earnings to more than double in the next five years, due to projects estimated to increase earnings, such as its industrial gasification projects in Texas and Louisiana.