The name 3M
In the second quarter, 3M earnings increased 17% to $882 million, or $1.15 per share; however, excluding a one-time gain, the company earned $1.05 per share, which was at the low end of lowered guidance it released on July 7 (analysts had anticipated earnings of $1.07 per share). Sales increased 7.5% to $5.7 billion.
The trouble with 3M's optical film line (used to coat LCD displays) isn't really news -- my Foolish colleague Seth Jayson reported on 3M's profit warning, concluding that this is one of those occasional overreactions that give value-oriented investors an opportunity to get good stocks on the cheap.
Regardless, though, 3M shares have been on a downward spiral since that profit warning in early July, and today they've hit a new 52-week low. Despite the fact that 3M said that optical film problems should be alleviated by the second half of the year, when the holidays should boost sales, word of lower margins gave investors more reason to fret.
To be fair, the abrupt change in the market for LCD TVs and monitors described by 3M is jarring. It's described as a dramatic shift from an "early-adopter" market to more traditional seasonal patterns as seen in other consumer electronics categories. And as 3M CEO George Buckley explains in the company's conference call, such products grow obsolete -- and cheaper on the consumer end -- very quickly if they don't move off stores' shelves, and an inventory build-up has caused manufacturers to slow down their rate of production, which of course, hasn't boded well for 3M.
Meanwhile, this is the first time in four years that 3M hasn't increased its operating margins. Buckley also said he sees some economic uncertainty in the U.S. economy and in the global outlook, which is the kind of statement that is bound to give investors chills -- they've lately been prone to such reactions. Apparently the idea that the second half of the year should bring improvements to some of 3M's trouble areas did little to settle down the skittish.
It is, of course, a tough day for 3M investors (and it's been a tough couple months). However, as Seth pointed out earlier this month, 3M is a strong, solid company with a highly diversified set of product lines that go far beyond the consumer brands most of us are aware of, such as Scotch tape and Post-it notes. It doesn't make too much sense to see even more weakness in a stock on the same negative news investors already expected.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, although she's a big fan of Post-its.