swung to a first-quarter loss as restructuring and other charges offset slightly higher sales.
The forest products giant lost $77 million, or 16 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with earnings of $169 million, or 35 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding the charges, IP earned 12 cents a share in the quarter, about a nickel better than expected.
Fourth-quarter sales were $6.1 billion, up from $6.0 billion a year ago. The Thomson First Call consensus estimate was for sales of $5.88 billion.
IP said results in the latest quarter were cut by $585 million, or about 87 cents a share, by high material costs when compared with the year-ago period. Volume declined in part because of downtime at a mill and several processing machines, offset partially by price increases and operational improvements.
"We expect first quarter results to be flat with fourth quarter, with somewhat lower earnings from land sales. While natural gas prices are trending down, costs for chemicals and fuel oil are trending up from already high levels in fourth quarter, so we expect overall input costs to be about flat," IP Chairman John Faraci said.
"Given this continued cost pressure, operational improvement remains a priority. We expect volumes to be seasonally slow early in the quarter, with some pickup in March. However, I feel good about the dynamics of what's happening in our business right now, as we gained some price momentum late in the fourth quarter that we expect will carry into the first quarter, particularly in our printing papers and packaging business."