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Grace tops estimates with 4th-quarter earnings; Columbia company turns red ink black for quarter and year; Specialty chemicals


Columbia-based W. R. Grace & Co. said yesterday that it earned $48.2 million, or 66 cents per fully diluted share share, in the fourth-quarter of 1999.

Excluding one-time gains, Grace had earnings per share from continuing operations of 46 cents -- 7 cents more than analysts' estimates, according to Zacks Investment Research.

During the fourth quarter of 1998, the company lost $210.1 million, or $2.88 per share.

Net sales increased 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter, rising from $372.4 million in the last three months of 1998 to $381.3 million in the final quarter of 1999.

"We are very pleased with Grace's fourth-quarter results," said Paul J. Norris, Grace's chairman, chief executive officer and president.

Grace, a leading global supplier of specialty chemical products, moved its corporate headquarters to Maryland from Boca Raton, Fla., last year.

The company operates a production plant in South Baltimore and a research center in Columbia.

For all of 1999, Grace said it earned $135.9 million, or $1.76 per fully diluted share. That was a nickel more than the consensus estimate of four analysts, according to Zacks Investment Research.

In 1998, Grace lost $183.6 million, or $2 per share.

Sales rose 1 percent, from $1.463 billion in 1998 to $1.472 billion last year.

In its earnings report, Grace said it had repurchased 2.5 million shares of its common stock during the fourth quarter, bringing its total buyback for the year to 7 million shares.

As of Dec. 31, there were about 69.4 million shares of Grace stock outstanding.

Grace's shares closed yesterday at $12, up 25 cents per share.

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