DIRK LAMMERS

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) ¿ Pacific Ethanol Inc. on Tuesday delayed its quarterly report and reiterated that it might have to seek bankruptcy protection if it can't restructure its debt or raise additional capital.

The Sacramento, Calif.-based company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that its profit margins are down because its alternative fuel is selling for less, and the company is operating its four ethanol plants at reduced capacities.

The company said it sold 24 percent less ethanol during the quarter at prices that are 28 percent lower from the year-ago period.

Pacific Ethanol delayed its quarterly report because it needs more time to complete the report's disclosures. However, the company said it expects to record a first-quarter loss of $23.9 million, or 43 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $35.2 million, or 90 cents per share, for the same period in 2008.

Pacific Ethanol said it has been trying to restructure its debt and raise additional debt or equity financing, or both, and it has been negotiating with lenders.

"However, there can be no assurance that the company will be successful," it said in the filing. "If the company cannot restructure its debt and obtain sufficient liquidity in the very near-term, the company will need to seek protection under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code."

Pacific Ethanol warned in late March that it may need to seek bankruptcy protection.

Oil refiner Valero Energy Corp. recently closed on seven ethanol plants it bought from Sioux Falls-based VeraSun Energy Corp., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 31 after tightening credit markets snapped the lifeline it needed to weather the swings in corn and fuel prices.

Another producer, Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings Inc., filed for Chapter 11 protection last month.

Pacific Ethanol shares lost 4 cents, or 5.6 percent, to 68 cents in morning trading.

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