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UPDATE 2-W.R. Grace CEO says unlikely to exit bankruptcy this year

Garima Goel
Wednesday, 23 Oct 2013 | 2:32 PM ET

* Bankruptcy exit likely in Jan-CEO

* Expects catalyst business to grow next year

* Third-quarter adjusted profit best estimates

* Revenue falls as price hikes hurt catalyst business

* Shares up 3 pct

Oct 23 (Reuters) - Chemical maker W.R. Grace & Co said it does not expect to emerge from its 12-year bankruptcy before the end of January as it deals with court appeals against its restructuring plan.

Grace filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2001, making it one of the longest bankruptcies in U.S. history, after an asbestos leak at one of its mines led to a slew of lawsuits.

Through bankruptcy, Grace has been able to halt debt payments, survive two recessions and take advantage of a U.S. shale energy boom that is fueling demand for catalysts, which help refiners process crude oil.

That demand helped Grace post a stronger-than-expected profit on Wednesday, marking the 10th straight quarter that the company has beaten analyst expectations.

Grace shares were up 3 percent at $93.19 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. They have risen about 34 percent this year and are trading at life-high levels.

Grace could emerge from bankruptcy by the end of January if there are no further appeals to its restructuring plan, Chief Executive Fred Festa said on a post-earnings call.

"If there are appeals filed, our emergence would be delayed, probably by two to three months," Festa said, adding the company would be able to give an update on Dec. 5.

Grace has said for years that an exit from bankruptcy is just around the corner, only to have dates come and go.

Meanwhile, demand continues to grow for its fine-powder catalysts, which help refiners process crude oil into gasoline, heating oil and other products.

CATALYST BUSINESS REBOUNDS

Grace charges a premium to tailor-make catalysts for refiners to match the chemical makeup of the oil to be refined.

The company raised prices in March, but analysts said refiners switched to competing products, leading to an 8 percent fall in revenue in Grace's catalyst business in the third quarter ended Sept. 30.

Grace was forced to roll back the price hikes and has introduced new products.

"(Refining) customers have to typically put these catalysts into a trial period that can last several months," said C.L. King & Associates analyst Jim Barrett.

"It's a gradual introductory period that should pick up steam throughout 2014."

Grace on Wednesday said it expects the business to grow next year, helped by its $500 million-acquisition of Dow Chemical Co's catalysts business earlier this month.

Lower prices in the third quarter were partially offset by strong demand for materials for construction, packaging and coatings.

Net income fell 8 percent to $69.4 million. Adjusted earnings of $1.07 per share beat the average analyst estimate of 99 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue fell less than 1 percent to $771.3 million. Analysts were expecting $780.2 million.

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