NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Seaspan Corp. slashed its quarterly dividend Tuesday, sending shares sharply lower even after the container ship company reported a first-quarter profit, compared with a year-ago loss. The Hong Kong-based company's stock plunged $3.63, or 33.6 percent, to $7.17 in afternoon trading. The shares have traded between $4.37 and $28.20 over the past year. Seaspan earned $24.2 million, or 31 cents per share, for the period ended March 31, primarily due to a $21.4 million gain related to interest rate swaps. The results improved from a loss of $37.7 million, or 65 cents per share, recorded in the year-ago period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, whose estimates generally exclude one-time items, forecast profit of 24 cents per share. Sales rose to $63.1 million, up 16 percent from $54.2 million. Analysts expected revenue of $63.4 million. While quarterly results were strong, investors focused more on Seaspan's dividend, which the company temporarily reduced to 10 cents from 47.5 cents. The company cautioned that it was unsure when the dividend would be restored due to economic uncertainty.
The move is expected to help Seaspan save an extra $100 million annually, which will be put toward its newbuilding program. The program needs about $500 million to $600 million over 24 to 30 months, starting in late 2010 until early 2011. "Temporarily reducing our dividend allows Seaspan to defer its equity capital needs, reduce its overall equity needs by approximately $320 million to $360 million and maintain a quarterly payout to its shareholders," Chief Executive Gerry Wang said in a statement.