By David Reed, UT EditorNORTHFIELD, ILLINOIS-Stepan Co, a leading global supplier of aromatic polyester polyols (APPs), surfactants and speciality materials, has turned in mixed results for the first quarter ended 31 March. Although total sales at $264 million were up 19 percent on the same period last year, net income fell 20 percent, to $3.24 million, just 1.2 percent on sales, with a similar-sized drop in earnings per share to $0.33.However, the firm's polymers business-which encompasses its APP activities-showed a solid 53-percent rise in total sales, to $57.4 million, a rise far ahead of that from the firm's main surfactants business, up just 14 percent to $201 million, and its speciality products segment which saw sales down 27 percent to $5.7 million, according to a 26 April news release.The increase in polymer sales largely came from higher selling prices, Stepan commented, mush of which was due to increases in costs for its own raw materials. Sales volume in the segment was up just 5 percent, the firm pointed out. Increased sales of polyurethane polyols were also offset by a decline in phthalic anhydride (PA) volume which, in turn, was partially attributed to a plant shutdown during March for maintenance, the statement added.Looking ahead, "the polymer group has started the year with a strong performance, but weaker specialty products earnings offset the improvement," said F. Quinn Stepan, chairman and chief executive officer. "Surfactant sales volume grew and efforts to recover higher raw material, freight and natural gas costs have been successful in North America, but have met greater resistance in Europe," he commented. "Overall business conditions look positive for the balance of 2005. Specialty products earnings are expected to recover in the second quarter and, despite the slow start to 2005, we remain confident in our strategy and are optimistic about full year earnings growth," Quinn Stepan concluded."