VWR laments tight school budgets

An earnings call may seem like an unusual venue to hear about tight school budgets, but not when part of your business is supplying laboratory equipment to classrooms.

Radnor-based VWR International L.L.C. is a global distributor of chemicals, glassware and instruments, and is most sensitive to pains and gains of pharmaceutical industry. But it also has a Science Education business unit that assembles, makes and distributes lab kits for schools that often go along with new textbooks.

Sales for the Science Education segment were $45 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, down 4.3 percent from $49.3 million for the same quarter a year ago. That’s tiny next to the $525.6 million in sales generated by its North American Lab unit and the $332.7 million by its European Lab unit.

But the small unit drew attention this quarter because VWR charged off $48.1 million for impaired assets.

VWR is privately held, but still files its financial results with the Securities and Exchange Commission and holds conference calls with analysts. On Monday’s call, Gregory L. Cowan, VWR’s chief financial officer, said the charge needed to be taken because of “continued budget challenges facing school districts in North America.”

With schools holding off on buying new textbooks, sales for VWR’s Science Education segment have fallen each quarter of 2010. Sales for 2009 of $237.7 million were down from the previous year.

“While we continue to believe that this segment of our business will rebound, the timing and pace of a rebound is now more uncertain,” Cowan said.

In Fashion

Sometimes, a really bad day for the stock market makes an individual company’s performance stand out.

That’s what happened Tuesday when Urban Outfitters Inc. was one of only 23 stocks among the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to close higher. The Philadelphia fashion retailer didn’t just eke out a gain. It was the biggest percentage gainer closing at $36.64, up $3.90, or 11.9 percent.

Not even fears of European debt disaster could douse investor euphoria on the day after Urban Outfitters’ third-quarter financial results had been released.

So many retailers have struggled in recent years, it’s almost shocking to see a big increase in quarterly net income. Urban Outfitters earned $73.1 million, or 43 cents per share, up from $62.4 million, or 36 cents per share, for the third quarter of 2009.

The company opened 29 stores during the nine months ended Oct. 31. And it plans to open 16 more in the current quarter, including a “metrocenter” on Fifth Avenue in New York that Steve Murray, global president of the Urban Outfitters brand, told analysts should open before the start of the Christmas shopping season.

And Urban Outfitters’ wedding concept format, announced in March, now has a name - Bhldn. (Like some vanity license plates, just add some vowels and sound it out.)

Urban Outfitters chief executive officer Glen T. Senk said Bhldn would launch with a website in time for Valentine’s Day 2011. The first terrestrial store would open during the third quarter of 2011 - location to be announced.

As for what Bhldn will carry, Senk said it will sell “everything that a bride needs.” He then listed wedding dresses, innerwear, honeymoon wear, decorations, invitations and more.

No grooms?