Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Ashland's 2nd-quarter loss less than last year's



By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Covington's Ashland Inc. reported a smaller net loss in its fiscal second quarter, typically its slowest, as its specialty chemical businesses had record March periods.

For the three months ended March 31, Ashland reported a net loss of $16 million, or 23 cents a share, down from $39 million, or 57 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Revenues rose 10 percent to $1.84 billion.

Lexington-based Valvoline reported 33 percent increase in operating income to $24 million. Ashland Distribution and Ashland Specialty Chemical each reported record March operating income of $19 million.

Ashland Paving and Construction reported a loss of $33 million.

Higher manufacturing and crude costs resulted in sharply lower profits at Marathon Ashland Petroleum, the 38-percent-owned Findlay, Ohio, refining and marketing business that Ashland has agreed to sell to Marathon. MAP's operating income totaled $2 million compared with $21 million a year ago.

Shares in Ashland closed at $48.91, up 80 cents.

In other earnings news:

• NS Group Inc. of Newport returned to profitability in the first quarter because of higher prices and demand for its oil and gas drilling pipe.

For the three months ended March 31, the parent of Newport Steel Corp. reported net income of $5 million, or 24 cents a share, compared with a loss of $11.2 million, or 54 cents a share, a year ago.

The net income for the latest quarter was after $1.9 million, or 9 cents a share, in restructuring charges.

Sales rose 22 percent to $84.5 million.

Despite higher steel costs, CEO Rene Robichaud said, "We believe our second-quarter financial performance will be much stronger.''

He said the company expects revenue from its welded products to be $833 a ton this quarter, compared with $568 a ton in the first quarter. Seamless products, made at its Koppel Steel mill in Pennsylvania, are expected to be $1,092 a ton compared with $890 a ton in the just completed period.

Shares in NS Group closed at $13.75, down 19 cents.

• American Financial Group Inc., the Cincinnati-based umbrella for the financial interests of Reds owner Carl Lindner, nearly tripled its first-quarter earnings compared to the same period last year, and added 10 cents to its earnings-per-share estimate for 2004, the company said Monday.

AFG said it earned $73.2 million, or 98 cents per share, compared to $25.1 million, or 36 cents per share, last year. Core earnings from investment operations of $53.4 million were up 22 percent compared to $43.8 million a year ago.

AFG said core earnings, which don't include one-time items, would be $2.85 to $3.10 per share for the full year. Its previous estimate was $2.75 to $3 per share.

Shares in AFG closed at $30.05, down 8 cents.

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Email mboyer@enquirer.com




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