Dow Chemical Shows Shocking Strength

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There's a lot to be said for the timing of earnings releases, as was demonstrated on Thursday by Dow Chemical (NYS: DOW) , the largest U.S. chemicals producer.

Unintentionally, the big Michigan company chose to tell the world about its quarter on the precise day that leaders in Europe took a few steps forward toward solving the debt crisis that has plagued the continent. And if that weren't enough, the U.S. added to the fortuitous timing by announcing third quarter economic growth of 2.5% -- not a roaring rate, but decidedly encouraging when compared with the tepid 1.3% level in the second quarter and the paltry 0.4% in the first.

For the quarter, Dow's net income improved to $900 million, or $0.69 per share, versus $597 million, or $0.45, year-over-year. Without a one-time gain from a plastics venture, the company's per-share earnings were $0.62, a penny miss vis-a-vis the analysts' consensus. While that made for the first miss at Dow in the past five quarters, as an erstwhile analyst -- and given the myriad of details that go into estimates -- I'm not especially inclined to look upon minimal misses or beats as indications that a company may be in for a rough landing or is headed for the stratosphere.

Revenue for the quarter rose 17% year-over-year to $15.1 billion. Clearly, a portion of that increase stemmed from a 17% increase in prices, which themselves stemmed in large part from higher raw-materials and energy costs. Revenue has now risen year-over-year for four consecutive quarters, while net income has chalked up three straight quarterly gains.

Five of Dow's six segments posted solid quarters, with only the plastics unit being somewhat disappointing. It nevertheless remained the company's most profitable segment. The agricultural unit surprisingly checked in with an operating profit. Geographically, volumes in both Europe and North America slipped, while those in Latin America and Asia increased.

As to the chemical industry as a whole, DuPont (NYS: DD) Olin (NYS: OLN) , and Celanese (NYS: CE) all turned in solid quarters, while Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical (NYS: EMN) announced Friday that its earnings had fallen by nearly 3%, despite a more than 20% boost in revenues. At the same time, the 38% decline in Dow's shares during the third quarter -- juxtaposed with an 8.2% jump on Thursday -- indicated that Mr. Market was surprised by the company's strong results.

As CEO Andrew Liveris noted, "Dow delivered broad-based sales gains and significant earnings growth this quarter. ... Our diversified geographic presence was also on display, as our investments in emerging regions enabled us to capitalize on growth where it is happening most rapidly."

The dynamics of globalization are, in fact, rendering such "diversified geographic presence" progressively more important for major corporations. For instance, Dow Chemical will clearly benefit from an expanding presence in raw materials-rich Saudi Arabia. Beyond that, having observed the rapid strengthening of its balance sheet following its 2009 acquisition of Rohm and Haas, I strongly recommend the company's presence on Foolish versions of My Watchlist.

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At the time this article was published We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Fool contributorDavid Lee Smithdoesn't own shares in any of the above-named companies. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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