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On the whole, the containers and packaging industry has performed reasonably well since the U.S. economy emerged from recession in the early part of the decade, but threats to profitability abound, depending on product mix and end-market exposure.

FMC (FMC), a chemical company, has been rated buy since November 2005. The company has a largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels, a solid stock price performance, good cash flow from operations, along with EPS and revenue growth. These strengths are expected to outweigh the fact that the company has had somewhat disappointing return on equity. Third-quarter profit totaled $37.1 million or 48 cents a share, up from $35.1 million, or 44 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue increased nearly 10% over a year ago to $626.6 million.

Investors have apparently begun to recognize FMC's positive factors, as the company's shares are up 62.56% over the past year. The stock's sharp rise has already helped drive it to a level which is relatively expensive compared to the rest of its industry, but Ratings feels that other strengths FMC displays justify these higher price levels. The two most critical factors impacting the financial health of chemical companies are the costs of raw materials (mainly oil and gas) and the overall strength of the economy.

Range Resources (RRC) engages in the exploration, development and acquisition of oil and gas properties primarily in the Southwestern, Appalachian and Gulf Coast regions of the U.S. It has been rated a buy since November 2005. The company's third-quarter earnings climbed 15% on the year to $58.9 million, or 39 cents a share. Excluding items, Range Resources earned $64.4 million, or 42 cents a share. Revenue increased 10% to $242.4 million.

Range Resources is expected to continue to benefit from a favorable industry outlook. The company is aggressively pursuing its drilling and acquisition programs even at the cost of raising more debt. However, oil exploration is risky, and the current success rate may not continue. Moreover, oil and gas prices are highly volatile and cyclical in nature, and are already trading at 12-month highs. Any downtrend may affect profitability.

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