Friday, February 5, 1999

damage buffets
Dole earnings

The company lost $108.3
million in the quarter

By Russ Lynch


After taking $120 million in pretax charges for weather-related damage to crops, Dole Food Co. today reported a net loss of $108.3 million, or $1.82 a share, for the fourth quarter of 1998.

Hurricane Mitch damaged more than 30,000 acres of plantings in Dole's banana business in Central America and cost the company $100 million, while freezing weather damaged $20 million worth of its citrus crops in California.

Income was down even before the special charges. Not counting them, Dole had a loss of $7.8 million, or 13 cents a share, in the latest quarter.

Info Box In the year-earlier quarter when there were no special charges, Dole had a profit of $23.2 million, or 38 cents a share. Fourth-quarter revenues of $1.04 billion were down 4.6 percent from $1.09 billion in the final quarter of 1997.

Dole had warned Wall Street last month about the losses and today's earnings report was a penny better than the average per-share estimate of five analysts surveyed by Boston-based First Call Corp. Analysts' estimates had the loss ranging from 8 cents to 15 cents a share, First Call said.

In New York Stock Exchange trading today, Dole shares closed up 6 cents at $31.94.

Founded in Hawaii in the middle of the last century, Dole now is based in Westlake Village, Calif., and has global operations that it says make it the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. The company spun off its Lanai resorts and its Hawaii and mainland residential real estate developments into a separate company, Castle & Cooke Inc., in 1995. But Dole still has extensive agricultural land holdings in Hawaii and is a major producer of fresh pineapple in the islands.

Dole said its cash flow from operations, before the special charges, was $42.7 million in the latest quarter, down 35.5 percent from $66.2 million in the final quarter of 1997.

Last year was not a good year for the company, which was hurt by extraordinary weather patterns and an economic crisis in Russia, said David H. Murdock, chairman and chief executive officer. For all of 1998, Dole reported a net profit of $12.1 million, or 20 cents a share, after the special charges. That was down from a profit of $160.2 million, or $2.65 a share, in 1997. Last year's revenues of $4.4 billion were up 2.3 percent from $4.3 billion in 1997.

Also contributing to the lower 1998 results was a 7 percent increase in interest expense, to $68.9 million from $64.6 million in 1997, as Dole borrowed more money to finance acquisitions.

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