(DL) - Get Report

squeaked to first-quarter profit, reversing a year-ago loss and topping the analyst consensus by 3 cents.

The company cited a sales increase in its domestic branded unit but cautioned that second quarter and full-year 2003 expected results will each fall a penny short of analyst estimates. Dial said it expects material costs for petroleum-related commodities, such as resin, fuel and natural gas, to be higher than originally anticipated.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consumer products maker earned $29.6 million, or 31 cents a share, compared with a loss of $18.5 million, or 20 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. The prior year's results were impacted by a change in accounting principle offset partially by gains from discontinued operations. Income from continuing operations for the first quarter of 2002 was $23.1 million, or 25 cents a share. Analysts were expecting the company to earn 28 cents a share in the first quarter.

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Herbert M. Baum, chief executive of Dial, said: "In a quarter challenged by heightened competitive activity and higher petroleum-related commodity prices, we managed to hold our own and deliver sales growth and margin improvement. Last year's brand-building investments coupled with tight controls on spending resulted in our strong performance for the quarter."

Total sales were up 6% to $312.4 million, compared with $294.6 million in the first quarter of 2002. Dial cited a 5% increase in the company's domestic branded segment and an 18.9% increase in the "international and other" segment, led by an increase in sales in Canada and favorable foreign currency gains. Laundry care sales rose 11.3% in the quarter, the company said.

Looking to the second quarter, the company expects to earn 33 cents a share, while analysts forecast 34 cents a share; the company earned 31 cents a share in the second quarter of 2002.

For fiscal year 2003, the company expects to earn $1.31 a share, whereas analysts expect $1.32 a share, on average. Dial earned $1.19 a share for full-year 2002. The company said sales for 2003 currently are expected to rise approximately 3% to 4%.

Shares of Dial closed at $20.05 Tuesday on the

New York Stock Exchange