W.R. Grace & Co. said Wednesday that profit in the first three months of the year dropped 15 percent, compared with a year earlier, as the bitterly cold winter forced temporary closures at its Baltimore plant and suppressed construction product sales.

The Columbia company, which also makes specialty chemicals, said it earned $50.1 million in the first quarter, down $9 million from the year-ago period. That difference is the amount of money Grace estimated it lost due to the rough winter.


"Extreme cold weather in North America took a bite out of our sales and earnings," Fred Festa, Grace's CEO, told analysts on a conference call.

The company's local manufacturing plant, located in Curtis Bay, makes catalysts used in the refining industry and silica-based products. Grace said it had to "intermittently" shut down the facility for parts of 13 days during the first quarter as a result of the cold.

"In addition to lost manufacturing time, we also incurred higher utility and logistics costs," Festa said.

But the company said global sales increased 4.9 percent to $744.5 million. Even the construction products business, hampered by lower construction activity in North America during the cold winter, saw "strong growth" elsewhere in the world, Grace said.

Earnings per share were 64 cents in the first quarter, compared with 77 cents a year earlier. The company's stock traded around $100 in the late morning Wednesday, down about $1.10.

Grace, which employs nearly 1,100 people in Maryland, exited a nearly 13-year bankruptcy related to asbestos claims in February. During the rest of the first quarter, it repurchased about 600,000 shares for $60.5 million.

The company expects to spend up to $500 million on share repurchasing over a one- to two-year period.