Grace reports 23.6 percent earnings increase

Chemical company W.R. Grace & Co. said Thursday that third-quarter earnings increased 23.6 percent as the company continued to target emerging regions.

The Columbia company reported net income of $54.9 million, or 74 cents a share, for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, up from $44.4 million, or 61 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.

Sales fell 9.5 percent to $682.1 million, compared with $753.6 million in the third quarter a year ago. Last year's figure included $72.4 million from a joint venture the company dissolved in December.

Sales in emerging regions, such as China and Saudi Arabia, increased 9.5 percent.

Expanding into emerging markets has become a key part of Grace's business strategy. These countries are growing 2.5 times as fast as developed regions, Grace officials said. The countries are rapidly expanding their urban cores, creating new opportunities for Grace. They are also strengthening building standards, requiring sturdier and safer construction practices.

"It is a big part of our business today," said Grace CFO Hudson La Force.

This week, Grace celebrated the grand opening of a 30,000-square-foot facility in the Vietnamese city of Hai Duong, near Hanoi. The plant will manufacture cement additives and concrete admixtures. It will also house a sales and technical service office and a quality-control lab.

Grace also recently opened manufacturing plants in Chongqing, China, and Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

The company said Thursday that it is uncertain when it will emerge from bankruptcy protection, which it sought in 2001 because of asbestos-related lawsuits. Its plan for emergence was heard in January, and the company is awaiting approval from a judge.

The company had a court hearing Monday and was told that the judge has a draft order and could have a final order by the end of the year, La Force said.

Grace also updated its forecast for the year. It now expects 2010 sales to be $2.64 billion to $2.66 billion. It had previously expected sales in the range of $2.60 billion to $2.65 billion.

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