Dow Chemical's

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first-quarter earnings fell almost 28% amid higher prices for energy and raw materials, but the company managed to avoid a loss with the help of strong plastic sales.

The maker of chemical products said net income slid to $76 million, or 8 cents a share, from $105 million, or 11 cents a share, a year earlier. Earnings in the period were reduced by a $9 million charge related to accounting changes.

Excluding charges, Dow reported a profit of $85 million, or 9 cents a share, up from $38 million, or 4 cents a share. Analysts had expected the company to post a loss of 10 cents a share, according to Thomson/First Call.

Sales rose 28% to $8.08 billion from $6.31 billion in 2002. Most of the revenue increase came from a 21% price hike and a 7% rise in sales volume, mostly from the company's performance plastics.

The company earned $137 million from the sale of plastics following a loss of $62 million last year. Dow raised prices in the segment by 38% in the past quarter to offset lower sales.

Chief Financial Officer J. Pedro Reinhard said economic conditions remain uncertain and that despite a 70% rise in energy prices, "we were able to reduce costs significantly, raise prices, resulting in a slight profit improvement."

Shares of Dow Chemical were up 1.5% at $31.94 in afternoon trading.