W. R. Grace's first quarter handily beats the estimates; Profit of 35 a share is reported, a 21% gain; Earnings


W. R. Grace & Co. reported first-quarter earnings yesterday that were far above analysts' estimates.

The Columbia-based company's net earnings in the three months that ended March 31 were up 21 percent to $24.2 million, or 35 cents a share. The per-share price reflects the 2 million shares the company repurchased in the first quarter; earnings per share would have been 32 cents without the buy-back.

On average, analysts had been expecting earnings per share of 26 cents, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Overall sales for the quarter were up 5.6 percent to $365 million.

The biggest jump came from Grace's Columbia-based Davison Chemicals, a division that produces catalysts used to accelerate the chemical reactions in oil refining. Sales at Davison were up 8 percent to $186 million and operating income rose nearly 52 percent.

"It looks like a very positive earnings release that reflects their exposure to the refining industry, which is experiencing positive momentum," said David Begleiter, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York.

Grace's other division, Performance Chemicals, in Cambridge, Mass., saw sales increase 3.3 percent to $179 million with an operating income increase of 14 percent.

"Almost every element contributed favorably to the results this quarter," said Robert M. Tarola, senior vice president and chief financial officer, noting that corporate costs dropped more than 6 percent. Shares of Grace closed at $13 yesterday, up 43.75 cents.

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