Bethlehem Steel Corp. reported today a steep drop in profits and blamed it in part on equipment repairs at the Sparrows Point plant in Baltimore County.

The Bethlehem, Pa.-based steelmaker posted a profit of $10 million, or 5 cents a share, in the third quarter, less than a quarter of the $47 million, or 53 cents a share, it earned during the same period last year. Sales of $1.2 billion were down nearly 5 percent from the year-ago figure.

The company blamed the decline on a drop in sales and prices for steel and higher operating costs. On the cost side, the modernization of a hot strip mill at Sparrows Point resulted in a 25-day outage of the unit, and accelerated repairs of a coke oven proved expensive.

Bethlehem employs about 7,500 workers at its steel plant and shipyard at Sparrows Point.

The results give the company a profit of $53 million for the first nine months of the year, less than a third of the $196 million it had at this time last year. And those 1989 figures had been depressed by a $105 million special charge designed to cover a restructuring of the Sparrows Point shipyard and other operations.

Results for the shipyard are not reported separately by the company, but losses in the division that includes the yard and other "steel-related operations" rose to $12 million in the third quarter, from $8 million a year ago.

The company's powerhouse steel-making operation posted a profit of $27 million in the quarter, down almost 55 percent from $59 million a year ago.

Repairs and modernization at Sparrows Point are expected to cut into fourth-quarter earnings also, the company said.

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