Quaker Chemical's winning game plan

Posted: May 05, 2014

Quaker Chemical Corp. doesn't swing for the fences.

No, the Conshohocken-based specialty chemical-maker likes to play small ball - watching costs, stressing customer service, making key acquisitions - to keep its balance sheet with a positive tilt.

"Our goal is to score runs by hitting many singles," Quaker's chief executive officer, Michael Barry, told stock analysts last week.

By Wall Street's measure, Quaker has been hitting the ball pretty well.

Since sinking below $5 a share during the Great Recession, its stock has risen fairly steadily.

Quaker finished the first quarter of 2014 with a couple of hits. It might have had more but for some bad breaks in terms of weather and foreign-currency issues.

Top of the list of good news was a 3 percent jump in net sales, which were $181.7 million for the first quarter this year vs. $176.2 million in 2013. Earnings per share were 96 cents, less than the $1.04 the prior year, but more than analysts' estimates of 94 cents.

"We are pleased with our first-quarter performance," Barry said. "The bottom line is, I continue to be confident in our future. We expect 2014 to be another good year for Quaker."

Quaker, No. 49 on the Philly50, has a market cap today of $962.47 million. That is a far cry from 1972, when it was taken public with a value of $10 million. At the time, it was simply a small regional company.

Today it has operations in 19 countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Sixty percent of its sales are from outside the United States. The company produces a variety of chemicals - lubricants, greases, dust suppressants, protective fluids - for industrial use.

International diversification leaves the company exposed to the vagaries of currency fluctuation, which can have unexpected effects on the bottom line.

Its first quarter of 2014, for instance, got a boost in Europe when value of the euro rose 4 percent against the dollar. That was more than offset, however, in Asia and South America because of a weakening of the Indian rupee (down 12 percent), the Brazilian real (down 16 percent), and the Argentine peso (down 35 percent).

Those foreign-exchange losses cost stockholders 5 cents a share in earnings, said Quaker's chief financial officer, Margo Loebl.

Acquisitions are a key component of its growth strategy, Barry said. The company in recent years has purchased aluminum-related chemical, grease, die-casting, and lubricants businesses in the United States, Mexico, and Italy.

Always on the lookout for takeover targets, Quaker likes to have a bit of cash in its wallet. At the end of the first quarter, it had a bundle - $42 million.

"The company's liquidity remains its strength," said Loebl, "positioning Quaker to pursue its stated acquisition strategy."

That's business lingo for Batter up .


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

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