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Despite a 3.5 percent drop in sales, Astec Industries Inc. boosted its first quarter earnings by 18.5 percent and beat Wall Street expectations in the first three months of the year.

The Chattanooga-based asphalt equipment maker said today it earned $17.7 million, or 77 cents per share, on net sales of $278.7 million in the first three months of 2016. In the same period a year ago, Astec earned $15.1 million, or 65 cents per share, on sales of $288.7 million.

The earnings results were 6 cents per share ahead of what analysts had forecast for Astec in the first quarter, although revenues were below what analysts had forecast.

Astec's domestic sales increased 11 percent to $234.2 million for the first quarter, but international sales plunged by 42.7 percent to only $44.5 million.

Astec CEO Ben Brock said he was pleased with the first quarter results, noting that the company's backlog increased 48.7 percent from a year ago to $432.8 million as of March 31, 2016.

"As our sales and backlog reflect, our domestic business is very good," Brock said. "This is primarily attributable to the passage of a new federal highway bill and continuing good private market activity."

Astec Industries shares have increased 13 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has climbed nearly 7 percent in the last 12 months.

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