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Crown blames earnings slide on steep cost of crude oil; However, sales figures improve markedly; Energy industry


Blaming high crude oil prices, Crown Central Petroleum Corp. yesterday reported its sixth consecutive quarter of negative earnings, although its sales numbers improved significantly.

The Baltimore-based refiner lost $3.6 million in the three months that ended March 31, compared with a loss of $11.8 million in the first quarter of last year. Sales were $421.5 million, up 87 percent from the year-ago period.

"Leading up to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreement in late March, market prices were rising for most of the first quarter," said Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., Crown's chairman, chief executive and president.

"Since then, crude prices have fallen to as low as $23.85 per barrel, reflecting the instability of the market and the difficulty in realizing an acceptable margin," Rosenberg said.

Crude oil prices reached $35 per barrel last month, a nine-year high.

The company is in the midst of a deal that would take it private and put it back in the sole control of the Rosenberg family, which controls a majority of the refiner's shares.

After a bidding war with Apex Oil Co. Inc. of St. Louis, Crown's board this month accepted a buyout proposal from Rosemore Inc., a Baltimore holding company headed by Rosenberg and his son, Edward. Under the plan, which has not been approved by the required two-thirds of the shareholders, Rosemore will pay $9.50 a share for the company.

Crown has lost money in eight of the past 11 years, with an average loss of more than $10 million a year. For 1999, it had a net loss of $30 million, or $3.04 per share, on sales of $1.27 billion. Its Class B shares closed yesterday at $8.75, down 12.5 cents. The shares traded as high as $36 in 1989 and as low as $4.625 in December.

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