By Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Shares in Akzo Nobel fell 3 percent on Wednesday as the Dutch paints and coatings maker left analysts questioning whether its 2020 financial targets were overly ambitious, despite an increase in first-quarter profits.
Adjusted operational income rose 9 percent to 163 million euros (£141.35 million) in the first three months of 2019, missing the 182 million euros average analysts polled by the company had predicted.
"Results came in well below expectations", ING analyst Stijn Demeester said, adding Akzo had felt the continued raw materials inflation.
The rising price of oil and other inputs will continue to dampen results in the first half of 2019, the company said, but at a lower rate than last year.
Higher input prices were largely passed on to customers in the first quarter, keeping total revenues stable at 2.19 billion euros, despite falling sales volumes in China and other regions.
"We're encouraged by the underlying business performance during this seasonally low quarter," CEO Thierry Vanlancker said in a statement.
Akzo maintained its target of increasing return on sales (ROS) to 15 percent by 2020, although the margin only improved to 9.1 percent in the first three months of 2019 and analysts expressed their doubts about the goal.
"We appreciate the company's efforts to improve profitability by cutting costs and raising selling prices...but continue to be significantly more cautious than the company's own ROS target", KBC Securities analyst Wim Hoste said.
ING's Demeester said the first quarter results indicated that Akzo's goal was "not straightforward".
Akzo shares traded down 2.9 percent at 77.39 euros at 0820 GMT, putting them at the bottom of Amsterdam's blue chip AEX index.
The company in 2017 promised frustrated shareholders it would improve profitability, as it refused to consider an unwanted takeover offer by U.S. rival PPG Industries.
As part of its defence strategy Akzo last year sold its speciality chemicals unit for 10 billion euros to a group of buyers led by Carlyle Group, with the proceeds distributed largely to shareholders.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; editing by Gopakumar Warrier, Jason Neely and Alexandra Hudson)