Ashland quarterly sales up, profit down

Covington-based Ashland Inc. announced quarterly earnings Tuesday that saw an increase in sales but a decline in profit, as results were dragged down by one-time items.

The specialty chemicals company earned $61 million, or 77 cents a share, in its fiscal first quarter, which ended Dec. 31. That's down 38 percent from $99 million, or $1.25 a share, in the same period a year earlier. One-time items, including a change in inventory valuation, dragged down profit by $35 million.

Sales, though, increased 35 percent as the company benefited from its acquisition in the past year of International Specialty Products. Had the company owned International Specialty Products a year ago, sales would have risen 6 percent, according to a company statement.

"Our first-quarter financial results reflect the improved earnings power from Ashland's transformation into a high-growth specialty chemical company," chief executive James J. O'Brien said in a statement. "The addition of ISP has significantly expanded our positions in higher-margin growth markets such as personal care and pharmaceuticals, and we are beginning to see the bottom-line benefits from our broadened business portfolio."

The company's Consumer Markets division, which includes Lexington-based Valvoline, garnered $475 million in sales, up 8 percent from $440 million a year ago.

Mirroring the company overall, though, its operating income fell from $67 million a year ago to $47 million. Although the division's margins declined, the company said they have improved compared to the quarter that ended Sept. 30, as increased pricing and lower raw material costs have had a positive effect.