Executive Business Briefing

Here is a look at more of Wednesday's top business stories:

Earnings improve slightly at Toll Brothers


HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa., May 28 (UPI) -- Toll Brothers Inc. reported a fiscal second-quarter net income that was up only slightly from the year-earlier period.

Toll Brothers said concerns about war and weather slowed activity in February and March, but demand was strong in April and May.

The home builder didn't provide specific earnings projections, but based on backlog, the company said it expects to produce record earnings for the next two quarters and the full fiscal year.

For the second quarter ended April 30, Toll Brothers had net income of $52.9 million, or 72 cents a share, compared with $52.5 million, or 69 cents a share, a year earlier.

Analysts on Wall Street were expecting the builder to post a net income of 68 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call.


Revenue rose 10 percent to $607.9 million from $550.5 million a year ago.

Housing sales climbed 11 percent to $601 million, while land sales fell 48 percent to $4 million. Toll Brothers reported an equity loss of $108,000 for the quarter, in contrast to equity earnings of $1.5 million for the same period last year.

The value of contracts signed in the period rose 2.7 percent to $926.5 million though the number of contracts signed fell 2 percent to 1,667 homes.

Backlog at the end of the quarter stood at $2.21 billion, up 25 percent from the year-earlier period.

Toll said the value of contracts signed and backlog reached the highest levels for any quarter in its history.

"The past four weeks have been among the best in our history for traffic and reservation deposits," said Chairman and Chief Executive Robert I. Toll.

"These are leading indicators for future contracts and, ultimately, 10 to 12 months down the road, for deliveries and revenues," he said.

Toll also reaffirmed the company's projection for home-building revenue of at least $3 billion for 2004.

Costco posts higher results

ISSAQUAH, Wash., May 28 (UPI) -- Costco Wholesale Corp. said fiscal third-quarter net income rose 18 percent as sales rose 11 percent.


The warehouse club retailer said it posted a third-quarter net income for the period ended May 11 of $153.8 million, or 33 cents a share, compared with $130.4 million, or 28 cents a share during the same period a year-earlier.

Analysts on Wall Street were expecting the company to post a net income of 31 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call.

Costco previously projected third-quarter earnings between 30 cents and 32 cents a share.

Net sales increased to $9.34 billion from $8.44 billion a year earlier.

Total revenue, which includes membership fees and other revenue, also rose 11 percent to $9.54 billion from $8.62 billion a year earlier.

Sales at warehouses open at least a year rose 6 percent in the third quarter.

Costco operates 416 warehouses and plans to open three more before the fiscal year ending Aug. 31. Including the relocation of one warehouse, Costco plans to open 12 additional warehouses by the end of calendar 2003.

Kerr-McGee Chemical puts plant on standby

OKLAHOMA CITY, May 28 (UPI) -- Kerr-McGee Chemical LLC, citing high inventory, said its electrolytic manganese dioxide manufacturing operations in Henderson, Nev., will be placed on standby during the third quarter for an indefinite period.


The Kerr-McGee Corp. unit said the suspension of operations will result in the furlough of about 85 of 130 employees.

The Henderson facility will continue to produce boron trichloride used in pharmaceutical and semiconductor industries and in manufacture of high-strength boron fibers for various products, and elemental boron for use in automotive safety air bag igniters, the company said.

"Low-priced imports have hurt our sales, as 95 percent of our electrolytic manganese dioxide is sold in the U.S.," Kerr-McGee said. "Our inventory is high enough that we must suspend manufacturing of this product temporarily."

It added that it is evaluating options that can help the company compete more efficiently in the manganese dioxide market.

BAE Systems to cut 40 jobs

LONDON, May 28 (UPI) -- British defense contractor BAE Systems Plc said it plans to cut 40 jobs at its Underwater Systems unit in Waterlooville, southern England, due to a reduced workload.

The job losses are largely due to a reduction in demand for complex development projects, BAE Systems said.

The unit, which employs 660 people, specializes in the production of torpedoes, mines and underwater vehicles.

"We believed that we had a forward plan which used our key skills for the foreseeable future," said Andy Williams, managing director of the Underwater Systems division.


"However, some anticipated contracts have not materialized and we must now downsize our workforce to match the current workload. We believe that by taking these difficult measures now, we will help to secure the longer-term future for our business," he added.

The latest job losses come despite a contract received in February to supply the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force with the next generation of lightweight torpedoes.

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