Lafarge North America has recorded a first quarter 2004 net loss of $70.8m, or 96 cents per share diluted. The results compare to a net loss of $87m, or $1.19 per share diluted, in the first quarter of 2003. Lafarge North America normally reports a loss in the first quarter of the year as its business activity slows during the winter months, and the company performs most of its major plant maintenance programs in preparation for the main construction season.
Weather conditions during the quarter were more typical, compared with the unusually harsh winter experienced last year. Consequently, volumes in the cement and construction materials divisions were up significantly. Moderate improvements were also realized compared with 2002 and 2001, when weather conditions were more favourable. The cement and construction materials businesses reported better operating results compared with the year-ago quarter, and the gypsum segment reported its third consecutive quarterly profit. These gains were partially offset by higher pension and postretirement expenses, small divestment losses from the sale of certain construction materials assets, and higher depreciation expenses.
"We have had a good start to the year," said Philippe Rollier, president and chief executive officer of Lafarge North America. "Even though we benefited from better weather compared with last year, we are also seeing improvements in underlying demand that are encouraging for the balance of the year. We are particularly pleased with the momentum in our gypsum division, which just reported its third consecutive quarterly profit."
Consolidated net sales were up 24 per cent over last year to $509m. Excluding a favourable Canadian exchange-rate effect, net sales were 17 per cent higher than last year. US net sales increased 19 per cent compared with last year, while Canadian sales increased 15 per cent in local currency.