Featherlite turns it around

Featherlite, Inc. (Nasdaq:FTHR), the Cresco, Iowa, manufacturer and marketer of specialty trailers and motorcoaches, has reported net earnings of $2.7 million, or 38 cents per diluted share, on sales of $193.2 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2002. That’s a major turnaround from the losses of $8.8 million, or $1.35 per diluted share, on sales of $212.8 million it posted for 2001.

“We are pleased that the company is seeing positive results from its strategic initiatives,” said Conrad Clement, Featherlite president and CEO. Clement credited the improved 2002 earnings to better margins, manufacturing efficiencies, reduced selling and administrative costs, lower interest expenses and a reduction in restructuring charges attributed to the 2001 closing of the Vogue coach facility in Pryor, Okla.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, 2002, Featherlite reported a net loss of $183,000, or 2 cents per diluted share, on sales of $44.3 million. This compares with a net loss of $4.9 million or 75 cents per diluted share on sales of $39.1 million in the fourth quarter 2001. Overall sales increased by $5.2 million or 13.3% over the same period last year. Gross profit margins in the quarter increased to 10.2% from 5.6% in the same period in 2001. Total sales and administrative expenses declined in the quarter by $301,000 or 6%.

Featherlite’s consolidated revenue for all of 2002 declined by 9.2%, with coach revenue down 18.5%. This is due in large part to the loss of revenues from the discontinued Vogue coach line, whose facility was closed in 2001, the company said. If the Vogue 2001 sales are excluded for purposes of comparison with 2002, consolidated revenue for 2002 would have remained essentially unchanged and motorcoach segment sales would have declined by only 1%. Clement believes that the lack of improvement in net sales is due to a still stationary economy and consumer uncertainty.

Featherlite has gained market share in 2002 in nearly all segments it serves, Clement said.

Despite its improved performance, the company was not in compliance with certain financial covenants in its U.S. Bank loan and in its Deutsche Financial Services loan at Dec. 31, 2002, and through Feb. 28, 2003. It’s working with these lenders to obtain waivers of these violations, and expects they will be granted, it said.

ASV earnings climb 79%

ASV, Inc. (Nasdaq:ASVI), Grand Rapids, Minn., reported sharply increased earnings but lower sales for the year ended Dec. 31, 2002. Fourth quarter 2002 net sales were $11,870,457, up 9% over net sales of $10,847,501 for the fourth quarter of 2001. However, net earnings for the fourth quarter of 2002 were $178,597, or 2 cents per share, down from $368,042, or 4 cents per share, for the fourth quarter of 2001.

For the year ended Dec. 31, 2002, ASV’s net sales totaled $44,236,876 off from $50,081,376 for the year ended Dec. 31, 2001. Howerver, net earnings for 2002 increased 79% to $1,353,129, compared with net earnings for 2001 of $755,668. Earnings per share totaled 13 cents for 2002 compared with 7 cents for 2001.

ASV President Gary Lemke said ASV posted the 9% increase in net sales even though Caterpillar reduced its purchases of Multi-Terrain Loaders (MTL). With the temporary shift away from the larger undercarriage used by Caterpillar and a warranty adjustment of approximately $300,000 for Caterpillar’s Multi-Terrain Loader (MTL) undercarriages, ASV’s gross profit percentage for the fourth quarter of 2002 declined.

Operating expenses decreased during the fourth quarter of 2002, due to a reduction of R&D work related to Caterpillar.

Lemke said Caterpillar has resumed production of its larger model MTLs, which has allowed ASV to resume production of the related undercarriage for these two models. For 2003, ASV expects net sales to be in the range of $55-65 million with net earnings projected in the range of 32 cents to 44 cents per share on a diluted basis.

ArvinMeritor Declares Dividend

ArvinMeritor, Inc. (NYSE:ARM), Troy, Mich., declared a quarterly dividend of 10 cents per share on the common stock of ArvinMeritor, Inc., payable March 17, 2003, to shareowners of record at the close of business on March 3, 2003.

ArvinMeritor, Inc. is a $7 billion global supplier of a broad range of components to the motor vehicle industry.

Bombardier ousts CFO

Bombardier Chief Financial Officer Louis Morin was ousted in what the company described as new President and CEO Paul M. Tellier “putting his stamp on the company.” Tellier was named president and CEO in January.

At the same time, the company said in a statement March 4, that its earnings for the year ended Jan. 31, 2003, will be about half the amount forecasted. Previous guidance by Bombardier called for earnings of 55 cents per share, before special items. Based on preliminary results, the company said earnings per share before special items will be in the range of 30 cents.

Complete earnings information is expected to be released April 3.

Following the Bombardier announcement, several services downgraded their ratings on Bombardier debt.

Earlier, Bombardier Aerospace said it will cut another 3,000 employees, or roughly 10% of the workforce, during the next 12 months, bringing the total number of layoffs announced since September 2001 to 8,800.

Vespa, Starbucks Do Joint Promotion

Piaggio USA, manufacturer of the Vespa motor scooter and Starbucks Coffee Company (Nasdaq: SBUX) have partnered for the “Starbucks Stirs You, Vespa Moves You” Sweepstakes. The promotion offers registered Starbucks Card users the opportunity to win loaded Starbucks Cards and Vespa-themed Italian vacations and prizes.

“The sweepstakes seamlessly integrates two very similar experiences — the Starbucks coffee culture and the Vespa lifestyle,” says Costantino Sambuy, president and CEO of Piaggio USA. “Like Starbucks, Vespa embodies a celebration of the finest elements of Italian culture by enabling the enjoyment of life's simple pleasures.”

Honda signs Footwear Agreement

H.H. Brown Shoe Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., has reached an agreement with the Motorcycle Division of American Honda Motor Company, Inc. to produce a line of Honda Licensed Footwear, debuting in fall 2003.

The Honda Licensed Footwear line is grouped into four categories aimed at specific market segments. The categories include: Traditional, a collection of classic lines and good looks; Touring, featuring the Gold Wing line of traditional and euro-styled boots; TransAlp, a selection of all terrain weather beaters for off-road and ATV use, and Sport Trax, a line of sporty and hip footwear for skate, surf and driving.

“Our four-part strategy targets a range of distribution channels depending on their market demographics,” notes Dennis Bleile, vice president of sales for Honda Licensed Footwear.

For dealer inquiries or more information on the new footwear line, contact customer service at 800/438-7026.

For more information on H.H. Brown, visit their Web site at www.hhbrown.com.

Cooper Buys Max Trac

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE: CTB) has purchased Max Trac Tire Company, Inc., better known as Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels. Max Trac, with leased locations in Stow, Ohio, and Temecula, Calif., designs, develops and distributes specialty tires for the street, strip, track and off-road racing. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Two well-known brand names — Mickey Thompson and Dick Cepek — are a part of this purchase. Cooper Tire has been a supplier to Mickey Thompson for a number of years, providing specialty and off-road tires under the Mickey Thompson and Dick Cepek names. In addition, Mickey Thompson has distributed and provided trackside assistance for Cooper’s Avon racing tires, which are produced in Melksham, England. There are no anticipated changes in Mickey Thompson's current relationship with suppliers of tires, wheels or other accessories, and the business will continue to be managed from Stow, Ohio.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, Findlay, Ohio, specializes in the manufacture and marketing of products including auto, motorcycle and truck tires, inner tubes, tread rubber and equipment.

ZAP Strikes Deal

ZAP (OTC Bulletin Board: ZAPZ), Sebastopol, Calif., says it has accepted a $250,000 purchase order for its new Seascooter dive propulsion vehicle from a Mexican distributor.

ZAP received the order in early February, while attending The Miami Boat Show, the world's largest consumer boat show, where it showcased the Seascooter along with some of its other new products. The Seascooter is a consumer version of the battery-powered dive vehicles used by undersea explorers and commercial divers.

The Seascooter is capable of pulling swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers through water at speeds up to 2 mph, with a run time of up to an hour with the optional extended life battery. It enables snorkelers and divers to reach new depths faster, thus making it easier to explore coral reefs and other marine life.

ZAP stands for Zero Air Pollution. ZAP was founded in 1994 to develop and commercialize transportation alternatives using the latest in electric technologies. The firm’s stated goal is to provide affordable and efficient electric transportation.

Pirelli Updates Production

Pirelli, the Italian tire, energy and telecommunications group, says it recently implemented its first Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) for the construction of motorcycle tires.

The Milan-based group, which has been applying MIRS technology to its car tires for around two years, already invested almost $10.8 million in the plant, which adjoins Pirelli's automobile tire production site on the outskirts of Biccoca, near Milan.

Using MIRS, Pirelli says it is able to achieve an 80% increase in productivity while saving in labor, materials and energy costs. According to the company, tire production, once a process that could take up to six days from start to finish, only takes 72 minutes via MIRS. Production at the new plant is estimated to be 125,000 motorcycle tires per year.

Pirelli, which had sales revenue of more than $6.5 billion last year, also owns Metzeler branded product. In addition to the new MIRS plant in Italy, the company’s motorcycle tires also are produced in Brazil and Germany.

Pirelli’s North American headquarters is a 140,000 sq. ft. facility in Rome, Ga. The $140 million three-year project houses offices, a warehouse distribution center, and a completely automated MIRS factory.

Motorcycle Sales Up in Brazil

Brazil’s Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers reports registered sales of 77,466 units during February 2003, up 30.44% over the volume sold during February 2002, and breaking the sales record of 78,587 units sold during April 2002.

The Association says sales of motorbikes during the two-months of the year increased to 147,337 units, up 23.9% from 118,964 units sold during Jan-Feb 2002. Exports during Jan-Feb 2003 reached 10,931 units, up nearly 126.6% from the same period in 2002.

BMW Canada Growing

Sales in the month of February continued to be strong for BMW Group Canada. BMW Motorcycles retailed 38 units across Canada, up 27% over February 2002. Year-to-date, total sales of BMW motorcycles are up 36%. BMW Group Canada, based in Whitby, Ontario, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BMW AG and is responsible for the distribution of BMW vehicles.

Japan’s MC Exports Down

Marking a second decrease in two years, Japan’s motorcycle exports for the period from January 2002 through December 2002 was recorded as 1,418,682 units, down 158,731 units or 10.1% over the 1,577,413 units recorded in the same period of the preceding year.

Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) reports the total value of motorcycles exported was $5.988 billion — a figure which includes about $4.52 billion for vehicles and nearly $1.47 billion for parts. This is a decrease of about $523.75 million or 8.0% compared to the $6.51billion exported for the same period of 2001.

BMW Gets Closer To China

BMW says a feasibility study prepared jointly with Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Limited for a production and distribution joint venture in China was approved in writing by the State Council of the People's Republic of China on March 14. BMW says the approval successfully concludes the most important step in initiating production in China.

Source: A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.
BMW will have a 50% share of the joint venture, and the firm plans to invest a total of 450 million euros by 2005. The start of production is planned for the second half of 2003. The joint venture factory, where 3 Series and 5 Series cars are to be built, will be located in Shenyang, in northeast China and one of the country's most important industrial centers.

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