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Ashland 3Q Net Down 41% On Raw-Material Costs; Revenue Up

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Ashland Inc.'s (ASH) fiscal third-quarter earnings fell 41% as high raw-material costs hurt margins and offset the chemical company's increased revenue. "Our principal challenge in the near term continues to be recovery of raw-material cost increases," Chairman and Chief Executive James J. O'Brien said. "While Ashland has recovered these cost increases on an overall basis through pricing, our commercial units have had varying degrees of success. We will remain focused on and continue to take appropriate pricing actions to recover our costs and ultimately restore margins." O'Brien said raw-material costs increased nearly $60 million sequentially, roughly double the average increase in the prior three quarters, and the company essentially offset all of these increased costs sequentially. Ashland has benefited from an industrywide resurgence in demand and earlier multiyear restructuring efforts. The company has raised prices over the past year to keep up with rising raw-material costs. Ashland has also been selling assets to reduce its debt load after its $2.6 billion takeover of Hercules in 2008. In May, Ashland announced plans to buy specialty-chemicals supplier International Specialty Products Inc. for $3.2 billion, a move to expand its personal-care, pharmaceutical and energy businesses. Ashland reported a profit of $87 million, or $1.09 a share, down from $148 million, or $1.85 a share, a year earlier. The latest period included $5 million, or 6 cents a share, in charges on write-downs and expenses related to environmental reserves associated with legacy sites unrelated to continuing operations. The year-earlier period included a 45-cent a share gain. Excluding earnings from its discontinued Ashland Distribution unit and other charges, Ashland's earnings from continuing operations fell to 92 cents from $1.01. Revenue increased 13% to $1.67 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently forecast earnings of 84 cents on revenue of $1.65 billion. Operating margin narrowed to 7.2% from 9.4%. Sales at the consumer business, which includes Valvoline and accounts for nearly a third of the company's sales, were up 13%, despite a 3.7% decrease in lubricant sales. Consumer markets operating income declined 30%. Shares closed at $68.50 Wednesday and were inactive premarket. The stock is up 20% over the past 12 months. -By Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3287;

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