Newmont Mining ( NEM) capitalized on the rising price of gold by selling more of it in the first quarter, sending net income skyrocketing.

The Denver mining company earned $117.2 million, or 29 cents a share, on sales of $864.6 million in the first quarter, compared with a loss of $6.8 million, or 3 cents a share, on sales of $482.2 million, last year. Before an accounting charge in the latest quarter, the company earned $151.8 million, or 38 cents a share.

Analysts had been forecasting earnings of 17 cents in the first quarter.

Newmont sold 1.78 million ounces of gold at an average price of $351 an ounce and an average cost to produce it of $261 an ounce in the first quarter. That compares with a total of 1.46 million ounces sold at an average price of $292 an ounce and average production cost of $257 an ounce last year.

The company used some of the windfall to reduce debt. At the end of the quarter, net debt to capitalization dropped to about 18% from about 20% at year-end 2002. Newmont spent $135.8 million to retire debt in the quarter, resulting in a pretax charge of $19.5 million.

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