Rockwell's Nosbusch Uncertain Shape to Manufacturing Recovery

Rockwell Automation chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch spent much of the second half of last year telling anyone who would listen that the market was about to bottom out. In that light Rockwell's first quarter results must have come as something of a disappointment. Revenue, at $1.06 billion, was down 10% compared with the first quarter of 2009, which itself was down 11% on the same period in the far off halcyon days of 2008, while organic sales were down no less than 15.5%. More serious, in terms of the immediate future, was the fact that quarterly revenues were down 1% compared with the last quarter of 2009. Income from continuing operations was down from $116 million in first quarter of 2009 to $78 million this time, while segment operating earnings were down from $178 million to $137 million. Segment operating margin was down from 14.9% to 12.8%, but up by 5.4 points compared with the previous quarter, which had been affected by restructuring charges.

Architecture and software on the up

On a segment by segment basis Architecture & Software saw sales declining 7% to $469 million, with currency movements partially masking a decline in organic sales of more than 12%. Compared with the last quarter of 2009, however, sales were up 11%, while segment operating margin was almost unchanged compared with the same period last year.

Control Products & Solutions saw organic sales fall by nearly 18% resulting in an actual sales decrease of 12% to $599 million compared with first quarter 2009 and as much as 8% compared with the previous quarter. Segment operating margin was also down from 10% at the beginning of 2009 to 6.3% this time.

Despite the disappointment, Nosbusch described the performance as "solid" and said that product revenues had "exceeded our expectations." Moreover, while organic revenue declined in the quarter, "the rate of decline has moderated considerably, and we saw strong growth in emerging Asia." Looking to the future he said, somewhat optimistically in the circumstances, that "… we are at the early stage of a recovery. However, high unemployment, historically low levels of capacity utilization and a very cautious capital spending outlook create uncertainty as to the shape of the recovery in manufacturing."

Rockwell also has announced the latest stage in its process strategy, the introduction of its first components specifically designed for process applications. The 29 product strong Allen-Bradley Bulletin 931 line of analog signal conditioners is designed to isolate, convert and amplify analog signals in batch or continuous processes. Designed to isolate multiple signals on the same power source, thereby reducing ground loop and common mode noise, they can be used to extend the performance and functionality of legacy control systems or be integrated with new systems including Rockwell's own PlantPAx. Included in the range are models carrying ATEX and UL Class 1, Div 2 certification and providing HART compatibility.

Meanwhile, back at National Instruments

No such disappointment at National Instruments where revenue in the fourth quarter was up 22% on the previous quarter and flat year on year at $202 million. Orders were up 2% on the fourth quarter of 2008 with average order size for the quarter a new record at $3,800.

Operating income for the quarter was also a record at $36 million, up 65% on the same quarter last year. National Instruments was also voted one of the U.S.' "100 Best Companies to Work For" for the eleventh consecutive year in Fortune magazine's annual survey.

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