Ashland 3Q earnings rise

Covington-based Ashland Inc. announced fiscal third-quarter earnings Friday that saw improved performance across the company's business lines.

Overall, the specialty chemical company said it earned $148 million, or $1.85 a share, up from $50 million, or 66 cents a share, in the same period in 2009.

Ashland said one-time items, including an after-tax gain on a buyout, accounted for 45 cents of earnings per share in the most recent quarter. A year ago, three items lowered earnings by 33 cents a share.

The company's revenue rose 16 percent, to $2.36 billion from $2.04 billion a year ago.

"We delivered another quarter of solid results," CEO James J. O'Brien said in a statement. "All of our commercial units achieved year-over-year volume and sales increases on a comparable basis."

O'Brien also noted that the company's board doubled its dividend rate during the quarter, "reflecting confidence in our solid financial position and future cash-generating ability."

Ashland Consumer Markets, which includes Lexington-based Valvoline, saw sales rise 5 percent year-over-year, to $463 million.

Sales at Valvoline Instant Oil Change stores open at least a year rose 10 percent in the quarter compared to a year earlier.

The company's profit margin on the Consumer Markets business fell, though, because of factors including rising raw material costs.

"We continue to implement price increases across all of our commercial units to offset our increased raw material costs," O'Brien said.

He said that while rising costs are putting pressure on profits now, those costs will stabilize over time, and Ashland's price increases will lead to higher profits.