Ashland's revenue, earnings fall

Covington-based Ashland Inc. announced quarterly earnings Wednesday that showed declines in both revenue and profit.

The specialty chemicals company had sales of $1.97 billion in its fiscal second quarter that ended March 31. That's down 5.1 percent from $2.08 billion in the same period a year ago. The company's net income fell to $53 million, or 66 cents a share, from $88 million, or $1.10 a share, in the same period a year ago.

"We faced a number of challenges in the second quarter, including economic weakness in several key regions, particularly Europe," CEO James J. O'Brien said in a statement.

Ashland executives noted a number of one-time items, including costs related to refinancing debt, dragged down earnings.

Each of the company's business segments saw sales declines "in the face of soft demand," O'Brien said.

The company also continued to be affected by a $31 million write-down in the first quarter of the value of its inventory of guar, a chemical used in extracting oil and natural gas through "fracking." In the second quarter, that inventory was sold for no profit, according to a statement.

Results were mixed at the company's consumer markets division, which includes Lexington-based Valvoline. The division's sales dipped 5 percent to $494 million from $520 million in the same period a year ago.

But lower raw material costs drove the division's operating income up 38.6 percent to $79 million from $57 million in the same period a year ago.

Company executives also updated goals they set in 2011 to reach certain financial targets by their 2014 fiscal year.

"We are now halfway through that three-year plan, and the reality is that some of those expectations, particularly those related to growth in emerging markets, have not materialized," O'Brien said. "As a result, our recent performance has been below target.

"In light of the broader economic challenges and market softness Ashland is facing in a number of key regions around the world, it is now unlikely that we will be able to achieve that range."

O'Brien said the company "will continue to look for ways to drive improvements that will lead to sustained sales and earnings growth."