Sales came in at $256 million (€200 million), a 11.4 per cent drop on $289 million for the same period in 2002, the company reported this week. The figures were on the back of a decent rise in operating income for the period moving to $6.3 million compared to a loss of $0.9 million for the year before.
"Our first quarter financial results reflect significant improvement in our performance compared to last year, even when you consider restructuring charges in last year's first quarter," said Robert A. Peiser, Imperial Sugar's president, referring to the sale last year of three sugarbeet factories and a foodservice activity plus the cessation of refining activities at the company's Sugar Land facility.
Surplus volumes of sugar on the world market would have had an impact on the company's results, that reported a drop in sugar sales volumes and rising competition.
A report from the US department of agriculture (USDA) last week confirmed that residual supplies of sugar in the US are showing some downward movement, 'but they remain well above the levels experienced during either of the previous two marketing years,?said the USDA's World Agricultural Outlook Board.
On a global scale, the sugar market is dogged by surplus stocks but relief in 2004 could come from a boost in buying from China ?a country also dominating oilseed and grain purchases - that would lift prices, the International Sugar Organisation (ISO) said last week.
The ISO estimates that the country may import over one million tonnes in 2004 due to a lower crop forecast and rising consumption.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2004, Imperial Sugar's CEO remained tentatively upbeat. 'Industry conditions remain difficult but we are well positioned with a strong balance sheet to face these conditions,?/i> he added.
During the quarter the sugar company repaid $13.3 million of term debt, reducing long-term debt to $21.6 million by the end of 2003.