Ashland ( ASH), the chemicals maker, posted a big drop in profit in its fiscal third quarter and blamed the performance, essentially, on taxes.

The company, suffering along with the chemical sector at large as the recession severely reduces demand for its products, broke down its earnings in about six different ways in its quarterly report Friday: operating income, net income, adjusted pro forma results, income from continuing operations, "unadjusted earnings," "cash flows from operating activities from continuing operations."

It was hard to keep it all straight.

What was not hard to keep straight was that the company's actual business has and will continue to be moribund. Ashland boss James O'Brien, in a prepared statement, warned that "demand could remain flat for the foreseeable future due to global macroeconomic dynamics."

That outlook, however vague, did not appear to please investors. In morning trading Friday, Ashland stock fell 12% to $27.37 on heavy volume.

Sifting through the innumerable figures for Ashland's third-quarter results, one found a bottom line of $50 million, or 66 cents a share, which would compare unfavorably -- a 31% decline -- to the year-ago period's $72 million, or $1.13 a share.

But there was, of course, a long list of special, one-time, extraordinary items to account for. For example: severance and "accelerated depreciation charges" of $16 million. Also, a non-cash charge of $10 million related to the paying down of a $750 million bridge loan. And there was an unfavorable $8 million tax judgment "in a foreign jurisdiction."

On a per-share basis, Ashland said this all added up to 33 cents a share in one-time charges.

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