Lear ( LEA) said first-quarter earnings shot up 29% from a year ago, as operating efficiencies and a lower income expense helped the company take advantage of the weakening dollar.

The auto-interior giant earned $91.4 million, or $1.30 a share, in the latest quarter compared with earnings of $67.9 million, or $1.01 a share, last year. Sales rose 15% to $4.5 billion. Lear noted that 10 cents worth of facilities consolidation costs that were expected to be recorded in the first quarter were moved into the second quarter.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had been forecasting earnings of $1.17 a share on sales of $4.27 billion. The company also issued guidance for the second quarter and full year, saying earnings in the current period will be $1.55 to $1.65 a share on sales of $4.3 billion, while earnings for all of 2004 will be $5.85 to $6.25 a share.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of $1.66 a share on sales of $4.32 billion in the second quarter, and earnings of $6.16 a share on sales of $16.51 billion in the full year.

In the first quarter, Lear said, the sales increase primarily reflected the beneficial effect of currency translation and the addition of new global business. The earnings increase reflected the higher sales combined with cost-cuts and a lower interest expense, offset in part by customer price reductions and facility consolidation costs.

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