A. Schulman (NASDAQ:SHLM) is one of the more influential early reporters for earnings season. The chemicals and plastics maker supplies various industries, from automotive businesses to packaging. The company released its first earnings report of 2014 to a delighted Wall Street, as estimates were surpassed on all counts. To sweeten the deal, management guided for a great end to the full year 2014. The billion dollar business is now trading at its 52-week high, but looks to have room for even more as the global economic environment improves. Here's what investors need to know.

Earnings recap
For the company's fiscal 2014 first quarter, A. Schulman brought in more than $585 million in sales on 502.7 million pounds of volume, representing a gain of 10% and 6%, respectively. Driving the gains at the top line were bolt-on acquisitions, including the Perrite purchase in the Asia-Pacific region -- helping drive the region's sales up 50% from the year-ago quarter.

Other strong segments included EMEA, which saw sales rise 11.7%. Sales volume increased, again boosted by Perrite, while profit jumped up largely due to operational efficiencies at the company's European plants.

On the bottom line, adjusted net income from continuing operators hit $16.7 million, or $0.57 per share. The number represents a 14% gain over the prior year's $0.50 per share. Analysts were expecting just $0.47 per share.

Looking ahead and solidifying the market's positive impression, A. Schulman management raised full year guidance to $2.13-$2.18 per share. The Capital IQ consensus had been $2.10 per share.

A. Schulman seems to be benefiting strongly from the global recovery. Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are all performing strongly, while the Americas leave a bit to be desired. The softness in the latter region, though, shouldn't overshadow the attractive outlook for the rest of the globe. Management has focused on picking up good companies with strong global presence, giving A. Schulman an immediate benefit.

Investors will want to watch the European auto market, which served as a big boost to the company's engineered plastics division. As consumers regain their confidence and buy more big-ticket items, like cars, A. Schulman should benefit in line.

A less optimistic item to watch is raw material costs. Management is predicting an increase, which could easily crunch margins and keep profitability limited. At nearly 15 times forward earnings, A. Schulman isn't unreasonably priced, but the stock has appreciated substantially in the past twelve months. This leaves material downside risk if the company does not manage costs as effectively as it has in the past.

Overall, though, this is a well-managed business with a great presence on the global plastics market. The simple thesis here is this: The better the global manufacturing market, the more A. Schulman investors will see on their returns.