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Ball beats earnings projections

The Daily Times-Call

BROOMFIELD — Ball Corp. beat analyst’s expectations in the fourth quarter, according to the company’s earnings announcement Wednesday.

The company’s earnings during the most recent quarter were $28.7 million, compared with $7.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2001.

Earnings per share for the quarter were 50 cents, including a $3.2 million charge related to extinguishing debt agreements. Analysts from Thomson Financial First Call had predicted earnings per share of 49 cents for the quarter.

During the fourth quarter of 2001, Ball reported earnings per diluted share of 14 cents. Sales for the fourth quarter 2002 were $910.2 million, compared with $843 million during the previous quarter in 2001.

During the most recent quarter, Ball acquired the No. 2 beverage can maker in Europe, and company officials say they are excited about the acquisition.

“The plants and, importantly, the people, are really excellent,” R. David Hoover, Ball’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a conference call with investors. He said he and other company officers had recently returned from touring their new European facilities.

Not only did Ball beat analyst’s expectations for the quarter, but Hoover said the results were even better than he expected.

“Our 2002 results were a sharp improvement over our previous year,” he said.

Earnings for the entire year were $159.3 million, compared with a loss of $101.2 million in 2001. During the previous year the company had to take a charge of $205.2 million related to business consolidation costs.

Earnings per diluted share for 2002 were $2.77, compared with a loss of $1.85 per share in 2001.

Sales for the entire year were $3.9 billion, an increase of 4.7 percent.

While Ball’s purchase of Schmalbach-Lubeca only became final in December, 2002 marked the first of a multi-year agreement Ball struck with Coors Brewing Co. This helped the company’s “packaging segment” sales total $3.368 billion in 2002, an increase of $101 million from the previous year.

The company reported that sales of plastic containers were also up dramatically in 2002.

Ball’s aerospace and technologies segment record sales of $491.2 million, compared with $419 million in 2001.

Earlier this month, the Ball-built Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation satellite was launched in California. Hoover said it is on a five-year mission to study global warming by “measuring ice-sheet elevations at the earth’s poles.”

Ball officials predict earnings of $3.60 per share in 2003. The company’s first quarter results are expected to be negatively affected, however, by costs associated with a new manufacturing line at Ball’s beverage can plant in Milwaukee, and “more pronounced seasonality in the European business,” Hoover said.