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Millennium profit soars 178 percent; Md. subsidiary accounts for about 80% of sales; Chemicals


Millennium Chemicals Inc., which employs about 750 people in the Baltimore area, said yesterday that its first-quarter profit soared to $25 million, or 37 cents a diluted share, a 178 percent increase over the corresponding period last year.

Sales were $423 million, up 10 percent.

Wall Street had predicted per share earnings of 31 cents, according to a survey of eight analysts by Zacks Investment Research.

The Red Bank, N.J., company's Maryland subsidiary, Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, is the world's second-largest producer of titanium dioxide, a white pigment used in toothpaste, paint and the lettering on M&M; candy. The company has offices in Hunt Valley, a manufacturing plant in South Baltimore and a research facility in northern Anne Arundel County.

Inorganic Chemicals accounted for nearly 80 percent of the parent company's sales, with revenue of $323 million in the first quarter, up 7.6 percent from the $300 million it had in the year-earlier period. Prices in the division fell 3 percent from the first quarter of 1999, but were up 2 percent from the fourth quarter.

"In terms of earnings progress in the titanium dioxide business, the business is getting better quarter to quarter to quarter," said Paul Leming, an analyst at ING Barings in New York. "The fundamentals are in good shape, demand is strong, there's not a huge surplus of capacity to depress prices, and supply and demand are in reasonably good balance."

Bob Lee, president and chief executive officer of Millennium Inorganic, said the earnings were "OK, but we still have opportunities for significant improvement in our results."

Shares of Millennium Chemicals closed down 75 cents yesterday at $19.

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