By David Reed, UT EditorLudwigshafen, Germany-Sales growth of MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) and polyurethane systems in Asia-Pacific were a key factor in boosting the performance of BASF in the first quarter of the year, according to a 28 April announcement.The firm's plastics business, which includes its polyurethane-related activities, reported a 74-percent increase in earnings for the quarter, at €269 million ($352 million) on sales just 21 percent higher at €2800 million. Polyurethane sales rose 26 percent, to €975 million, and earnings in the Performance Polymers and Polyurethanes divisions "increased considerably," the announcement added.Total BASF sales grew 11 percent in the first quarter of this year, the statement continued, emphasising that there was strong growth in the same quarter last year. They rose by 14 percent if divestitures and currency fluctuations are not taken into account, the firm added. But in Asia-Pacific, BASF companies increased sales in local currency terms by 19 percent.The growth was primarily due to price increases, according to the statement, although sales volumes were higher than in the first quarter of 2004, particularly in the Chemicals and Plastics segments which includes its polyurethane-related activities.Income from operations (EBIT) rose 33 percent, reaching €1600 million, the statement continued and, again, the Chemicals and Plastics segments showed a significant improvement in margins and earnings, thanks to capacity utilisation being predominantly high, the firm said.Compared with the first quarter of 2004, net income soared 66 percent to €861 million, the BASF statement added.Regional performance is mixedThere was also good news from North America (NAFTA), where sales by location of company improved by 24 percent in dollar terms. EBIT before special items trebled from €90 million to €271 million, the statement said.Companies in Europe increased sales by 8 percent in the first quarter of 2005. EBIT before special items in the region rose by €222 million to €1100 million, thanks to higher margins and a further reduction of fixed costs in the Chemicals and Plastics segments, BASF said.In South America, Africa, Middle East, sales by location of company increased by 4 percent in local currency terms, while EBIT before special items declined by €7 million to €71 million. The Plastics and Performance Products segments posted higher sales and earnings in the region, BASF added."