Inland Steel Co. surprised the financial community yesterday by announcing doubled profits for the first quarter compared with a year ago.

The company announced late yesterday that earnings soared to $24.2 million ($1.16 a share) from $12.1 million (57 cents) for the same period a year ago. Sales rose to $756.5 million from $627.9 million.

Inland said first quarter 1977 results had been hurt by severe weather and an accompanying natural gas shortage. Apparently this year's winter storms and accompanying coal strike did not hit as hard at the firm's operations. In addition, the current earnings reflect investment tax credits of $71.1 million (35 cents) compared with $3,7 million (19 cents) a year earlier.

In the first quarter, steel shipments rose 16 percent and raw steel production climbed 15 percent from year-earlier figures.

Inland continues to experience strong demand for its steel mill products and experts to operate at capacity levels during the second quarter, it said, which should result in further improved earnings for the second quarter.

Dow Chemical Co. reported yesterday a 15 percent drop in profits during the first quarter on a sales increase of 7.5 percent.

Net income was $129.5 million (71 cents a share), down $22.2 million (82 cents) from the first quarter of 1977. Sales rose to $1.65 billion from $1.53 million.

Winter storms and the coal strike hurt some of Dow's North American operations, although its domestic pharmaceuticals business "enjoyed a banner season due to record demand for our cough, cold and flu remedies," said G.J. Williams, financial vice president.

Dow also announced it is selling its 50 percent share of Dow Badische Co. to its partner BASF AG of Ludwigshaven, Germany.

The reason for the sale was not given, but fiber sales have been weak throughout the industry lately.

Rockwill International Corp. reported a 20 percent increase in its earnings for the second fiscal quarter over the same period a year earlier.

Profits climbed to $43.5 million ($1.23 a share) on sales of $1.4 billion, compared with earnings of $36.2 million ($1.05) on sales of $1.4 billion a year earlier.

Rockwell's second quarter ended March 31.

President Robert Anderson attributed the gain to improved performance by the company's automotive, aerospace, utility and industrial and consumer businesses.

In the first six months of fiscal 1978, Rockwell earned $83.6 million ($2.38) on sales of $2.8 billion. Profits were up to 28 percent over a year ago, the company said.

In the first six months of fiscal 1977, earnings amounted to $65.5 million ($1.90) on sales of $2.8 million.

TRW INC., the electronics, engineering and scientific firm, earned $35.8 million ($1.10 a share) in the first quarter, up from $31.7 million (96 cents) a year earlier, as sales rose to $870.4 million from $776.9 million.

BORDEN INC., the food and chemical company, announced record first quater sales and profits. The company also said yesterday it plans to increase the quarterly dividend 4 cents a share to 43 cents for the second quarter.

Chairman Augustine Marusi said preliminary figures showed first-quarter profits of $27.6 million (89 cents a share), a 4.5 percent gain over last year's $26.47 million (85 cents). Sales rose 2.4 percent to $843.50 million from $823.28 million.

The Southland Corp., of Dallas, which operated 7-Eleven Stores, said its first-quarter sales and earnings were the highest of any first quarter to date.

Chairman John Thompson said profits surged 18.8 percent to $7.35 million (38 cents a share) from $6.19 million (32 cents) a year earlier, while sales rose 20 percent to $648.47 million from $536.78 million.

Kiser Steel Corp. reported first-quarter loss nearly equal to last year's first quarter profit.

The company said its loss totaled $4.46 million (67 cents a share) compared with earnings of $4.51 million (61 cents) for the same period a year earlier. Sales rose to $173.95 million against $149.56 a year ago.

The loss before income taxes and equity in the earnings of unconsolidated companies was $13.54 million, but was partially offset by tax credits and the company's equity in the earnings of Hamersley Holdings Ltd., Kaiser Resources Ltd., and other firms.

"During a quarter in which low priced imports amounted to about half our market, we were unable to sell enough tonnage at high enoughprices to cover our increased costs for raw materials, labor and energy, President Mark Anthony said. He noted that the nationwide coal strike also hurt profits.

American Motors Corp., its ailing passenger car business bolstered by strong Jeep sales, reported slightly higher profits of $2.7 million (9 cents a share) in the second quarter.

It was the sixth consecutive quarter the no. 4 auto maker has reported a net profit. Earning were up 8 percent over $2.5 million (8 cents) registered in the same period a year earlier.

The earnings included an extraordinary credit of $1 million (3 cents) for a carryover of tax losses.

AMC President Gerald Meyers and Chairman Roy Chapin said the profits came on increased sales of $640 million, up from $534 million last year.

But the increase occurred in the firm's strong Jeep division, which posted record wholesale sales of 36,566 units,up 38 percent from a year ago. Passenger car sales, which have fallen steadily in recent months, were down more than 12 percent in the second quarter, with wholesale units totaling 37,133.

For the fiscal year to date, AMC's profits total $4.6 million (15 cents) compared with earnings of $3.7 million (12 cents) last year. Net sales for the first six months total $1!2 billion, compared with $1.1 billion last year.