3M shares rise after first quarter sales increase on 'strong' demand for personal safety products

Key Points
  • 3M says it saw "strong" numbers in its personal safety unit in the first quarter given its role in the production of N95 respirator masks amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • It said that it's doubled global respirator output to 100 million per month since the beginning of 2020 and is working to double respirator output again.
  • 3M is also withdrawing its full-year financial guidance thanks to uncertainty about the duration, magnitude and pace of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

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3M posts earnings beat, withdraws full-year guidance

3M shares jumped Tuesday after the manufacturing conglomerate reported first-quarter earnings and revenues that topped Wall Street's expectations as demand for safety equipment and cleaning products spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The company said in a release that it saw a mix of results across its segments, but especially "strong" numbers in its personal safety unit given its role in the production of key N95 respirator masks.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M said Tuesday that it's doubled global respirator output to 100 million per month since the beginning of 2020 and is increasing capital investment to double respirator output again.

It reported adjusted earnings per share of $2.16 on revenues of $8.08 billion for the first quarter, growth of 2.7% on a year-over-year basis. Both figures topped Wall Street consensus estimates of EPS of $2.03 and sales of $7.91 billion based on Refinitiv research.

Still, it's difficult to compare reported earnings to analyst estimates for 3M's first quarter as the impact of the coronavirus is tricky to model precisely in financial forecasts. Shares were last seen up 4.4%.

"Given the breadth and diversity of our businesses, the financial impact of COVID-19 is varying across 3M," CEO Mike Roman said in a release. Total sales grew 21% in its health-care segment and 4.6% in consumer, the company said.

"In the first quarter we saw strong growth in personal safety, as well as in other areas of our portfolio experiencing high demand due to the pandemic," he added. "At the same time, we experienced weak demand in several end markets that were more severely impacted by actions taken around the world to slow the pandemic."

As such, 3M announced Tuesday that it is withdrawing its full-year financial guidance, saying uncertainty about the duration, magnitude and pace of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic makes it impossible to provide meaningful estimates.

However, 3M said it would begin reporting monthly sales information starting in May to provide investors transparency on 3M's ongoing business performance.

It added that it will make adjustments to how it spends its cash amid the outbreak. 3M said it's making "aggressive" cost reductions while minimizing employee impact for estimated cost savings of $350 million to $400 million in the second quarter.

It also said it will now be prioritizing organic investments, protecting its beloved per-share dividend — which it increased 2% to $1.47 before the end of the first quarter — and suspending its share repurchase program.

"We believe that these quarterly results were better than feared and indicated that there were still pockets of growth in personal safety, food safety, general cleaning, and biopharma filtration," RBC analyst Deane Dray wrote of the results.

"3M's explicit prioritization of its dividend should also alleviate any concerns over a dividend cut," he added. "As a result, we expect 3M shares to modestly outperform peers by roughly low-single-digits on Apr-28."

Trump and 3M reach agreement on masks to help coronavirus response after dispute

The Trump administration and public health officials have been laser-focused on 3M in recent weeks as it ramps production of its N95 masks that that filter small particles and droplets from the air. The masks have proven exceptional for their ability to protect wearers from contracting the infectious coronavirus.

The N95 masks have proven so important to the public health campaign that President Donald Trump ordered 3M to accelerate their production after invoking the Defense Production Act on April 2.

The president also tweeted that same day that the administration "hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks," a comment that appeared to refer to the company's move to sell some of their N95 masks to Canada and Latin America.

trump tweet

A few days later, Trump announced that the White House and 3M had reached an agreement that included the government's purchase of nearly 167 million masks over the next three months. 3M continues to ship N95 masks around the globe to continue to fill global orders.

"We share the same goals of providing much-needed respirators to Americans across our country and combating criminals who seek to take advantage of the current crisis," Roman said on April 6. "Given the reality that demand for respirators outpaces supply, we are working around the clock to further expand our capacity, while prioritizing and redirecting our supplies to serve the most critical areas."

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