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Lithia Motors doubles quarterly earnings

Lithia Motors Inc. doubled its earnings per share from the previous year in the first quarter of 2002, reporting net earnings of $6.4 million, or 42 cents per share for 15.4 million outstanding shares.

The Medford-based auto retailer had net earnings of $2.9 million or 21 cents per share on 13.8 million shares in the first quarter of 2001. That represents a 124 percent increase in net income.

The company reported same-store sales in the quarter were up 1.4 percent, which exceeded its previous guidance of a — to 6 percent decline.

"Oregon and California were our two strongest states," said Jeff DeBoer, vice president and chief financial officer. "We were up 14 percent in those two states and they account for 39 percent of our sales."

Excluding goodwill, net earnings in the latest quarter were $3.4 million or 25 cents a share. A Thomson Financial/First Call survey of four analysts had estimated first-quarter net of 37 cents a share. "Goodwill" is an accounting term that refers to the intangible value added to a company because of its reputation or patronage.

Lithia forecasts second-quarter net earnings of 40 to 42 cents per share on revenue of $550 million to $570 million, and a year net of $1.79-$1.87 per share on projected revenues of $2.2-2.4 billion.

Lithia's stock closed up 17 cents at $28.35 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Lithia Motors also reported that total sales increased 25 percent to $524.4 million in the first quarter of 2002 from $420.2 million in the first quarter of 2001. New vehicle sales increased 24 percent, used vehicle sales increased 33 percent, parts and service sales increased 15 percent and finance and insurance sales increased 30 percent.

"We have now reported three consecutive quarters of record earnings and revenue growth," said Sid DeBoer, Lithia's chief executive officer and chairman.