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EARNINGS PREVIEW: Material Costs Still In Focus For US Chemical Cos

By Nathalie Tadena Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES TAKING THE PULSE: Profits in the chemical industry are generally expected to rise this quarter as the sector enjoys a broad recovery on the back of a rebounding manufacturing industry. However, decisions to pass on price increases remain a key issue for chemical companies amid rising raw material costs and worries that profit growth may slow for the rest of the year. Demand from emerging markets has been a key driver in the sector in recent months. COMPANIES TO WATCH Air Products & Chemicals Inc. (APD) - reports July 22 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect earnings of $1.46 a share on revenue of $2.53 billion. In the year-earlier period, Air Products posted a profit of $1.17 a share, including an 11-cent tax charge, on revenue of $2.25 billion. Key Issues: The industrial-gas maker has posted expectation-beating results on increased volume in recent quarters as its merchant gases business--its largest by revenue--continues to grow in Asia. Air Products, which withdrew its $5.9 billion hostile takeover offer for rival Airgas Inc. (ARG) earlier this year, has had to raise prices to keep up with rising raw material costs. Praxair Inc. (PX) - reports July 27 Wall Street Expectations: Wall Street is looking for per-share earnings of $1.37 on revenue of $2.79 billion. A year earlier, Praxair posted a profit of $1.19 a share on revenue of $2.53 billion. Key Issues: The largest industrial gas company in North and South America posted a better-than-expected first-quarter profit on double-digit sales increases in Asia and South America. Praxair has reported growing earnings on revenue from emerging markets with expanding oil-and-gas industries, such as Mexico and Brazil, in recent quarters. Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) - reports July 27 Wall Street Expectations: Wall Street analysts forecast second-quarter earnings per share of 81 cents on revenue of $14.75 billion. A year earlier, the company posted a profit of 50 cents a share, including a 4-cent restructuring charge, on revenue of $13.62 billion. Key Issues: The largest U.S. chemical producer by revenue has posted eight consecutive quarters of margin growth as it places greater emphasis on specialty chemicals and materials, which yield bigger margins than commodity chemicals. The company has also seen improved earnings in recent quarters as stronger demand and price increases have offset higher purchased feedstock and energy costs. Dow also repaid $2.5 billion in debt in the first quarter, a move the company said will reduce interest expense and immediately boost earnings. DuPont (DD) - reports July 28 Wall Street Expectations: Analysts predict per-share earnings of $1.34 on revenue of $9.86 billion. Last year, the company reported a profit of $1.26 a share, which included a 9 cent charge, on revenue of $8.62 billion. Key Issues: DuPont closed its acquisition of Danish food ingredients and enzymes company Dansico A/S (DNSCY, DCO.KO) in May, enabling the U.S. manufacturer to further diversify from its commodity chemical roots towards faster-growing product areas such as high-tech seeds. The world's largest titanium dioxide producer also announced a plan of more than $500 million to expand its titanium dioxide manufacturing capacity as strong demand from emerging markets continues to boost prices. Airgas Inc. (ARG) - reports July 28 Wall Street Expectations: The Street is looking for 96 cents a share in fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue of $1.15 billion. In the year-earlier period, the company posted a profit of 76 cents a share, including a 7 cent charge, on revenue of $1.05 billion. Key Issues: Airgas posted improving results over the past year as industrial demand helped drive top-line results and enabled the company to focus on improving metrics such as cylinder utilization. The specialty-gas provider, which fended off a year-long hostile approach from rival Air Products, posted a profit in the fourth quarter on increasing sales to manufacturers and other customers. LyondellBasell Industries NV (LYB) - reporting date to be announced Wall Street Expectations: Analysts predict LyondellBasell, formed after the 2007 merger of Houston-based Lyondell and Europe-based Basell, to post per-share earnings of $1.20 on revenue of $13.27 billion. The year-earlier results aren't comparable as the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2010. Key Issues: LyondellBasell posted soaring first-quarter earnings as the chemicals company reported improved results across its business segments and improving margins, despite rising prices for raw materials. The company has pointed to particular strength in its olefins and polyolefins and propylene oxide businesses. (The Thomson Reuters estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.) -By Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3287;

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