, the blue-chip paper giant with operations in 50 countries, announced fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday of 28 cents a share, missing analysts' lowered consensus estimate of 30 cents a share. Last year, International Paper earned 55 cents a share in the fourth quarter. This quarter, which was already expected to come in below expectations when IP warned a month ago, was hampered by high fuel costs and a decline in the U.S. economy.
"The slowing economy and rising energy costs hit during a period in which demand is traditionally soft for most of our product grades," said John Dillon, IP's chief executive officer and chairman. "And as demand fell, we maintained our commitment to keep our production in line with customer orders, which negatively impacted overall sales." These factors would continue into the opening months of 2001, he added.